The Power of Purpose: The retirement an relaunch of Stephy Nobles-Beans

Stephy Nobles-Beans speaks at Whitworth University graduation.  (Courtesy)
By April Eberhardt The Black Lens

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, and the daughter of a minister, Stephy Nobles-Beans knew she had a calling when she was 17 years old. As a teen mom, she shares that she felt unworthy of that calling; with her hands up, she reflects, she refused to accept it until the age of 21 years. Following her path, she shares, has opened doors that she could have never imagined. From giving invocations at places like the Rotary Club International to being slated to speak after Bill Gates, Nobles-Beans has walked into rooms that, at 17 years old, she did not believe she was good enough to be in. By the time she reached Spokane, she had been in ministry for 25 years.

Affectionately known in the Spokane community as “Mama Beans,” she retired from Whitworth in May, after 28 years as the Associate Chaplain of Diversity Equity and Inclusion. In her tenure, she has served as adjunct professor as well as a campus pastor. A former military spouse and mother of four, Nobles-Beans traveled extensively and served on the home front, focusing on her family. This, in and of itself, is a yo-yo of moving, resettling and readjustment. After years of marriage, she embarked on a journey of single motherhood and when her oldest daughter enlisted into the United States Air Force, she and her youngest two children relocated to Spokane in 1991, via Fairchild Air Force Base.

In re-establishing herself, this time around, Nobles-Beans went through a few different jobs. She landed a position at Whitworth as the administrative assistant to the vice president of student life in 1996. This was her launching pad for the leg of her journey that manifested into two college degrees and a platform that has influenced and inspired many for nearly three decades. She knew at some point she would complete her college education and in 2003, she and her son graduated together from Whitworth. As many people are gearing up for retirement, Nobles-Beans went for another milestone.

“The opportunity availed itself that I would go back to get my master’s degree, at the age of 60, at the challenge of my son who said ‘I double-dog dare you’ to go back to school,” she said. “So, I started at 60, in the master’s program of leadership, graduating at 62. And the position I had at the time was what they called the multicultural coordinator, working with students of color.”

Her boss saw something deeper in her; she had also been ministering at the campus chapel. He offered her the opportunity to teach as a professor.

“I wrote my first curriculum with him; we taught Diverse Christian Leadership for seven years, and it was a beautiful journey doing that,” she said. “Then I became the associate chaplain for Diversity Equity and Inclusion as well during that seven-year journey.

“I tell people that I’ve learned a lot working in DEI. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

In the human resources department, she also worked as a DEI trainer for faculty and staff. Witnessing transformation in people has been one of the most rewarding parts of her journey.

Diversity barriers tend to occur in spaces where different people must co-exist. Nobles-Beans says that in order for those barriers to be broken, people must want change.

“There are people who want change, there are people who don’t want change, and there are people who don’t care,” she said.

She focuses on the individuals who want change.

“I’m a transformational leader and I only want to be in the room with people who want transformation for the betterment of humankind,” she said. “We have so many people who want to change but they don’t know how, but they are willing to have a changed mindset.”

She recognizes that there can be a resistance to change that is rooted in fear. Her observation through the years is that when people are willing to take the journey even while afraid, they are better off for it. Not coming from a place of badgering or accusation, it is important, says Nobles-Beans, to be transparent about the uncomfortable parts of history, otherwise we are bound to repeat it. She contends that we must stretch ourselves to learn, to have the hard talks, even if we do it afraid.

“It won’t just affect us as adults, but it affects the next generation,” she said. “So, we have to be willing to come to the table of compromise. I’ve learned not to wear my feelings on my shoulders, and my emotions, because when I step into the realm of emotions, I lose focus.”

Struggling through disagreement in doing the work is par for the course. It is no easy feat to challenge peoples’ perspectives, internal biases, and/or approach. To reconcile this, Nobles-Beans says, when wrangling through the process, it is important not to become overwhelmed. To hold your peace. And to guard our mouths.

“If people really want to wrangle and have courageous conversations,” she said, “let’s do it over a good meal.”

In doing this, while there are differences that are inevitable, the similarities are where we can find strength. Maybe, says Nobles-Beans, this doesn’t happen right away.

“When we get to the wrangling of things, how do we work through that? And sometimes that is hard,” she said.

Knowing that collaboration is not always a straight line, Nobles-Beans emphasizes learning to listen, taking notes, clarifying, and understanding the difference between an asset mindset versus a threat mindset. When asked what a good leader is, she emphasizes that it is “one who invests, one who pours, one who cares for the people they have been assigned to.”

“I pour myself into other people,” she added. “I want people to soar to greater heights than what I have done.”

Reflecting on her favorite memory at Whitworth, Nobles-Beans unequivocally states, “My kids! My students!” She is on assignment, she says. With students coming from different geographical areas, socio-economic backgrounds, etc., Nobles-Beans made them her objective. She committed herself to being the best that she could be for them.

“I hope that I made my life count with these students,” she said.

At the celebration of her retirement, over 200 people showed up to the chapel with hundreds of notes, letters, and cards.

“I had more blessings and learning experiences than I ever thought I would have had a predominantly white institution,” Nobles-Beans said.

Where does Mama Beans go from here? She says that reinvention is good.

“The journey is changing for me. I’m not retiring; I am relaunching into a different journey, going to another destiny. I looked up the word ‘launch,’ and launch means to rejuvenate, to recreate and revival.”

She aims to become a leadership coach, support the endeavors of her adult children, who are all successful in their own right, and continue to build her own business, SHE-BREWS To Lead Too.