From here, for here: Spokane swears in new NAACP president

Lisa Gardner is the new president of the NAACP Spokane chapter.  (Courtesy)
By Jordy Blaine The Black Lens

Advocating for African Americans and equal rights in Spokane is more than a passion for Lisa Gardner, it’s in her blood. Becoming the Spokane NAACP president seems to be destiny, and we are lucky to have a living legacy in leadership. Gardner was sworn in Thursday, Jan. 25.

Lisa was born and raised in the East Central Neighborhood. She grew up in Spokane when Francis Scott Elementary was Sheridan and when Chase Middle School was Libby. She was raised by her grandmother, Sarah Gardner, known locally and throughout the Pacific Northwest for having a heart against hatred.

Like Lisa, Sarah weaved her way into the heart of the Spokane community. She put down roots in East Central, bringing sunshine to what some considered dark areas of town. Sarah’s Beauty Shop was known for welcoming the walks of life other establishments might not support: pimps, preachers, prostitutes and the Brown people down the street were all invited into Sarah’s community. In 1987, Sarah ran for a City Council seat to ensure improvements to her community. She was killed two days after she lost her City Council seat race. No one was ever convicted of Sarah’s death and her case was sadly closed by the Spokane Police Department.

The loss of Sarah Gardner was felt heavily. It planted a seed that spread throughout the community, compelling many East Central residents to carry forward her legacy, although none quite like her own granddaughter, Lisa.

In 2020, Lisa Gardner stepped into a role any grandmother would be proud of, but especially hers, serving as the city communications director. She now adds Spokane NAACP president to her duties. Gardner joined the Spokane NAACP three years ago after a conversation with then-president Kiantha Duncan.

“It was through a conversation about how Spokane has changed over the years,” Gardner said. “Mrs. Duncan then went on to say, ‘You have a legacy, Lisa. Your grandmother lived and died for the cause of bettering Spokane for Black people, so it only makes sense for you to join NAACP and pick up where your granny left off.’ ”

Lisa tells us she didn’t expect to get swept up in the cause.

“Soon, I found that I kept volunteering for speaking engagements, to write NAACP articles for the Black Lens, and assisting with event planning; just things that I knew I could do to help amplify NAACP,” Gardner said.

After working alongside Duncan, then serving as second vice president over the last year with past Chapter President Kurtis Robinson, Gardner holds the key to one of the oldest NAACP chapters in the U.S.

“I plan to continue to do what I set out to do: mobilize the message of the NAACP of social justice,” Gardner says.

With her local roots, Lisa believes Spokane is a great community and sees folks willing to do the work without regard for personal reward.

“They have to love their community to a point where money or title doesn’t matter,” Gardner said. “The only thing that matters is making sure Spokane is a safe place for all of us.”

Much like her grandmother, Lisa is bringing people together.

“I typically am the one to shy away from leadership roles and be the worker bee,” she said. “I still want to continue being that worker bee, but I also want to use my position as the president to unlock and open doors. To pull chairs from out the corner and sit at the table.”

The NAACP president knows the sacrifices that come with holding a position that advocates for powerful issues.

“In history, activists and advocates have been killed: MLK, Malcolm X, President Kennedy. Even my own grandmother,” Gardner said. “All left a legacy of fighting for basic human rights. No one should have to fight for human rights, but here we are in 2024, still fighting, and it will happen long after we’re gone if we don’t stay vigilant and persistent in eliminating hate.”

With changes in city and county administrations, she is ready for a fresh start.

“It is imperative that we’re in lock-step with the Office of Civil Rights when it comes to social justice in Spokane,” Gardner said.

With a new year and a new chapter president, Lisa has confidence in her leadership and the NAACP’s membership.

“Spokane’s branch of NAACP was established in 1919, so for over 100 years, NAACP has been the primary organization fighting for social justice. It’s time to grow our army of soldiers in this continued fight,” Gardner said.