Toyia Taylor

WHO Toyia Taylor, the 41-year-old poet, performer and educator behind the education organization We.App (Act, Present, Perform) and its Young Artists Academy program, where students grades 4–9 find their voices by learning to write and present original works about subjects like bullying and diversity. Born in Seattle, Taylor spent most her childhood in Louisiana, where her family is from, before returning to the Pacific Northwest at age 13. After graduating from the University of Washington, she moved to Washington D.C., where she created an ongoing youth employment program for the housing authority, and later to Brooklyn, where she founded an after-school program focused on social justice and leadership for students of color. She came back to Seattle in 2009.

THE LOOK “My style is a gumbo in itself,” she says. “My personality is drawn to one-of-a-kind pieces that are created with love, and usually by female designers who are warriors. I’m in the goddess phase—very organic and authentic, and I love that ’70s vintage look.” During speaking engagements: “I love to be elegant, regal and wear long gowns.” While teaching: harem pants, high-collar jackets and shirts, high-top Converse, leather UGGs. Among friends: “My social scene style is B-girl all day—big hair, high-top sneakers, five-finger ring, Brooklyn tees and nose ring.”

ICONS Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Michelle Obama, Lupita Nyong’o, Halle Barry, contemporary African clothing (specifically Nigerian), Chianu International Fashions and Onion designer Whitney Mero.

UP NEXT This fall, Taylor is working to expand We.App into more partner schools and increase the professional development services it provides to schools and teachers. Eventually she hopes to open a charter boarding school for global leadership. “Moving a child from the back of the classroom to the leadership in the front,” she says. “There are no words for that.”

Photo by Lauren Max