Submitted by the YWCA of Olympia

Today YWCA Olympia announced that W.F. West High School student Ashlynn Gallagher was selected as the 2017 YWCA Young Woman of Achievement. Ashlynn is a high school senior at W.F. West High School and a Running Start student at Centralia College, living in Chehalis. The 24th Annual Women of Achievement Celebration will take place on Friday, November 10 at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

This years honorees will be celebrated at an event on November 10. Photo courtesy: YWCA of Olympia

Ashley joins Karama Blackhorn, Leslie Cushman, Dr. Marie Johantgen, Malika Lamont and Merrill Angela Pusey-Williams as well as the 2017 Business of Achievement Seifert Law Offices.

Special guest speaker, Nikkita Oliver, is a Seattle-based creative, teaching artist, and anti-racist organizer. She is the 2015 recipient of the Seattle Office of Civil Rights Artist Human Rights Leader Award, the Seattle Poetry Slam Grand Champion 2014, has been on and coached numerous national poetry slam teams at both the youth and adult levels.

Once again Titus-Will has stepped up as the Women of Achievement Presenting Sponsor with WSECU as the Sustaining Sponsor and Olympia Federal Savings serving as Supporting Sponsor.

Tickets are $45 per person ($35 for seniors/military and $25 youth). Doors open for the main event at 6:00 p.m.

A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $125 per person. Tickets information is available online at at the YWCA of Olympia website. All proceeds benefit YWCA Olympia. For more information, contact Cherie Reeves Sperr, Community Engagement Director at 352-0593 or

Meet the 2017 YWCA Achievement Recipients

Karama Blackhorn (Racial Justice & Civic Leadership)

2017 YWCA Woman of Achievement Karama Blackhorn
Karama Blackhorn is being honored for her work in Racial Justice & Civic Leadership. Photo courtesy: YWCA of Olympia

Karama Blackhorn (Rogue River Shasta) is a Queer indigenous activist, community leader, visionary, passionate educator, and fierce organizer. Their work centralizes anti-oppression education to build community and empower leadership through culturally responsive and celebratory spaces. Karama is a first-generation student now pursuing a Master of Public Administration in Tribal Governance at the Evergreen State College to utilize their experience as a multicultural affairs professional and passion for education to create stronger policies and programs that advance opportunities and access for minority students while aiming to decolonize education to better support these students when they get to school. While historically students of color have a graduation rate about 10 percent lower than white students (33 percent), Karama’s work has contributed to a 98 percent graduation rate for students of color and white students enrolled in the Diversity and Equity Peer Mentor Program that they developed at South Puget Sound Community College. Karama is a founder of Queer I Am, a statewide LGBTQ summit for 300 students for two days of immersion in Queer community building, history, and culture. They were named the Queer Activist of the Year by Capital City Pride, was a youth member at Stonewall Youth, and is a multiple scholarship recipient from the Pride Foundation. Karama was instrumental in building the FIRE Summit (a college access event that was a collaboration between tribes, school districts, and SPSCC) and organizing the YWCA Olympia’s Racial Justice Summit, among dozens of other conferences, events, boards, and programs. While coordinating several HIV prevention programs and services, they started a sex positive business, eventually helping to launch an msm safer sex nonprofit. Karama has coordinated various queer oral history projects and is a freelance social justice graphic designer. Throughout it all, Karama encourages a sense of belonging and is focused on intersectional inclusivity from the streets to the boardroom. Karama believes in the power and wisdom of people to lead and help their own communities in the way they know best.  Their work is focused on creating access where none existed, and mentoring folks to build skills and confidence to create the change in the world, and in themselves, that they feel is needed.

Leslie Cushman (Racial Justice & Civic Leadership)

2017 YWCA Woman of Achievement Leslie Cushman
Leslie Cushman is being honored for her work in Racial Justice & Civic Leadership. Photo courtesy: YWCA of Olympia

Leslie exemplifies the YWCA Olympia’s Mission to eliminate racism as a crusader! Leslie recognizes the fundamental role white supremacy plays in this country. She believes the truths shared by people of color, by indigenous people, and by women, and is convinced that – in order to move forward – this country has to face the debt it owes to people of color and Native Americans.  In 2015, following the May 21st shooting of Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, Leslie co-founded the Olympia Coalition to Reform Deadly Force laws, which became a supporting partner of the Black Alliance of Thurston County.  During the 2016 legislative session Leslie and her mentor, Kathy Baros Friedt, worked with Dr. Karen A. Johnson and a newly formed coalition of community advocates on legislation to reform Washington law related to the use of Deadly Force.  Unfortunately, this legislation was not successful, but a legislative task force was established to study the issue.  Since then, Leslie and her colleagues established De-Escalate Washington, which is a political action committee for a statewide initiative to the legislature. Leslie serves as the Policy Director for the Campaign.  I-940 will require statewide standards for law enforcement to receive training on de-escalation, mental health, and first aid, require that first aid be rendered at the scene, establish standards for the use of deadly force, and mandate completely independent investigations.  A key component is the requirement to include diverse communities in the development of policy.  In addition to policing issues, Leslie is involved in solidarity actions at the Northwest Detention Center and peace vigils at Percival Landing.  Leslie helped found Thurston Gun Sense, a group dedicated to preventing gun violence through safe storage. Leslie volunteers with Not This Time, a Seattle-based nonprofit founded by Andre Taylor, whose brother was shot by Seattle police in spring of 2016, and is an advisor to Latino Civic Alliance, a statewide organization advocating for civic engagement and reciprocal relationships between the community and political representation.  Leslie has close ties to the Puyallup Tribe through work and friendship, and supports the Tribe in its work to achieve Justice for Jackie.  Leslie is a citizen science volunteer with the Nisqually Reach Nature Center and aspires to be a Cop Watch volunteer.

Dr. Marie Johantgen (Health & Safety)

2017 YWCA Woman of Achievement Dr Marie Johantgen
Dr. Marie Johantgen is being honored for her work in Health & Safety. Photo courtesy: YWCA of Olympia

Marie exemplifies a woman who has spent her life giving back to the local community and to the world at large.  Marie has spent her career as a Board-Certified Obstetrician Gynecologist currently with Kaiser Permanente (formerly Group Health) and has been in clinical practice for over 20 years, taking care of women with compassion and skill.  Her CV is long and impressive, but what sets her apart is the amount of time and energy she has spent helping women in her free time.  In 2009, she started the local chapter of Dining for Women, an organization where women meet each month, have a potluck dinner together, learn about international health issues that affect girls and women, and raise money to help grassroots secular organizations in developing countries.  The group, which is focused on sustainability and improving the conditions of women and families, has raised almost $50,000 for organizations that support women’s health and safety.  Marie also worked for The Olympia Free Clinic for four years, providing care to local adults who have no insurance or are underinsured.  Additionally, she is active in RESULTS, a citizen’s advocacy group whose mission is to end poverty, and she volunteers for CIELO, an organization that supports local immigrants. Throughout her career, she has gone on multiple trips to developing counties to offer gynecologic care to women who would otherwise not have any, including Haiti, Rwanda, Peru, India, Kenya…she is well traveled, all at her own expense.

Malika Lamont (Health & Safety)

017 YWCA Woman of Achievement Malika Lamont
Malika Lamont is being honored for her work in Health & Safety. Photo courtesy: YWCA of Olympia

Malika Lamont is the Opioid Response Program Manager for CHOICE Regional Health Network, formerly with Evergreen Treatment Services, and Thurston County. Malika received her BA from Xavier University of Louisiana and Master of Public Administration Degree from The Evergreen State College. According to her nominator, “Malika has had to fight every day of her life for a respected and heard seat at the table….and it’s working.”  Throughout her career, she has worked with vulnerable populations to increase health and improve social conditions for the most vulnerable.  She works to address social determinants of health, including, but not limited to, substance use disorder, mental health issues, poverty, and homelessness for 19 years, beginning as a licensed Adolescent Counselor and Family Care Coordinator for Pierce County Alliance and Catholic Community Services in Tacoma, and becoming a foster parent. She was then recruited by the Washington Initiative for Supported Employment to do planning for people with developmental disabilities as a personal agent and she started her own consulting business to improve education for youth with disabilities. In 2005 Malika moved to Thurston County Public Health and Social Services to implement HIV testing interventions in Family Planning Settings as a result of an HIV outbreak. After the sudden illness of a co-worker she also took over the Syringe Exchange Program and HIV counseling and testing. She was at the helm during what is being described as one of the worst heroin epidemics in the region and transformed the program into a regional exchange that served six counties and led the way to increased access to substance use disorder treatment and health care and decreased disease incidence, and was the catalyst, author and person to implement the Naloxone Policy and Distribution Program in Thurston County. Malika helped start the Olympia Free Clinic, is a board member at Behavioral Health Resources, co-chair of the Thurston County Safety Net Council, a Steering Committee Member for the Thurston County Asset Building Coalition, a St. Martin’s RN to BSN Advisory Board Member and Preceptor. She is a founding member of the Washington Association of Syringe Service Programs, Full Circle United and is involved in other movements for social good. She enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and animals. She loves to cook for people and to go camping.

Merrill Angela Pusey-Williams (Racial Justice & Civic Leadership)

2017 YWCA Woman of Achievement Merrill Angela Pusey-Williams
Merrill Angela Pusey-Williams is being honored for her work in Racial Justice & Civic Leadership. Photo courtesy: YWCA of Olympia

Merrill is a fierce advocate for social justice. Her true superpower is her genuine love for community, her warmth, her fierce intellect, and her commitment to truly radical inclusion.  She is involved in multiple community organizations from Full Circle United and De-Escalate Washington to Black Lives Matter.  Merrill was a member of the advisory committee for the YWCA Olympia’s Racial Justice Summit. She has advocated for Communities of Color, for the LGBTQ community, for SafePlace and other organizations supporting survivors of domestic violence, and for the #NoDAPL movement. She raised a son and became a grandma, and then started community college in her 50’s, graduating from South Puget Sound Community College and the Evergreen State College-Tacoma Campus. She became a student leader and activist as well as an intern for Senator Bob Hasegawa during the 2017 legislative session. Merrill survived an abusive relationship, drug addiction and homelessness.  She has chosen to share her story of recovery in many spaces in order to give hope to other women who are in abusive relationships or are struggling with addiction.  She has worked in a homeless shelter where she supported many people whose lives mirrored her own when she was struggling to get back on her feet.  She has mentored countless students in her journey through college, talking to them about how they might use their strengths and experiences to persist through even the most challenging moments of their academic careers.

Ashlynn Gallagher (Young Woman of Achievement)

2017 YWCA Woman of Achievement Ashlynn Gallagher
Ashlynn Gallagher is this year’s YWCA Young Woman of Achievement Photo courtesy: YWCA of Olympia

Ashlynn continuously tries to break barriers in her high school by participating in her school’s activities and courses that have been shown to have more male participants than female: The robotics club, STEM club, and advanced scientific research courses. This summer, Ashlynn was enrolled in four classes at her local community college and is active in her community and school by advocating for girls in STEM. Ashlynn wants to stop sexism and racism within not only her school, but the world around us, to show that STEM is not a male or race dominated career, but is for anyone and everyone.

“When I joined the robotics club, I saw girls being judged not based on their work, but on their gender. At first, I was confused because as I was doing my own work, I kept trying to see what she doing wrong that was caused unwarranted feedback. As time went on, I experienced name calling, judgment, was not allowed to work on the robot, and I noticed that the boys were given positive feedback and their mistakes were not noticed. I found it ironic that although my robotics team was trying to recruit more girls to build an awareness for girls in STEM, they were blocking the girls on their team from actually getting hands-on experience in STEM.”

Ashylnn is deeply curious about the universe we live in, and the idea of solving the mysterious of the universe inspires her. During her free time, Ashlynn is currently researching the effects of cancer treatments correlating to apoptotic gene noxa and tumor suppressor gene p53 on zebrafish embryos to further research on acceptable cancer treatments in her high school. Ashlynn won First Place Overall at the South Sound Regional Science and Engineering Fair which allowed her to compete at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair this year with her scientific research.

Ashlynn plans to major in biomedical engineering with a minor in mathematics at 20 years old, and to get her Ph. D. and open her own research lab.

“I want to help my family, friends, and the world. I see STEM as a way to help the world from the problems we are facing today and the problems we will face in the future. I plan pursuing a degree in STEM to acquire the skills that can help not only my family, but my friends, and possibly the world.”

As part of her award, Ashlynn will receive the 2017 Mary P. Dolciani Young Woman of Achievement Scholarship, awarded by the Mary P. Dolciani Halloran Foundation. The purpose of the scholarship is to provide financial support to a young woman who has the aptitude and interest in pursuing a college major and career in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) or math education.

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