Yoga, listening, and her mom

This is the second installment spotlighting another one of the incredible women in our community.  I’m pleased to share with you our second feature on an amazing woman who is a leading arts & culture advocate in the Portland area:  Tonisha Toler!


Tonisha is the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s (RACC) Community Liaison focused on building relationships, especially with diverse and underserved populations and growing RACC’s equity practices in all of their operations. Her work involves informing the community of RACC’s services and resources; learning how RACC may evolve to be more relevant to community’s needs; overseeing RACC’s annual Professional Development Artist Workshop series and RACC’s quarterly creative community networking event, Art Spark.  Tonisha started with RACC in 2007 as the Grants and Outreach Coordinator assisting in the administration of all the RACC’s grant programs and coordinating various RACC outreach efforts. Prior to joining RACC she worked for the Washington State Arts Commission (WSAC), Olympia, WA.  Her career started with internships, nationally and internationally in exhibition prep for art galleries and museums.  Additional passions include community work, systems and system change and just about anything renegade!

How do you approach negotiation? Can you describe a successful outcome / ‘lesson learned’ experience?

I work to be as prepared as possible for the situation. I talk out/write up what the goals are and the steps I think are needed to get there and that helps to define parameters.

I had an experience where a presenter I hired wanted a different fee than we had been working with for years. I felt caught off guard, nervous and unsure. After listening to their request and taking a pause, I informed them I would consider this and then sought resources for advice. When I closed the negotiation, it was a compromise of their original request and though I was nervous I remained firm. In the end everything worked out well and taught me a lot about being caught off guard and how to roll with feeling uncomfortable and with grace. These days, I feel more confident to handle unexpected and challenging situations along with standing up for “my side” too.

Where do you see that women can help each other more?  Where did you receive the most help from women in your career?

I feel women can help each other more by being open and available for conversation, guidance and providing resources. As recipients of help I feel one needs to be open to receiving and feeling ok with asking for help.

I received the most help from women in my career, at the very beginning. I had one friend who was a high powered IT manager on Wall Street and she helped me feel confident about and learn to see my experiences as a waitress as valuable and transferable skills. She also boosted my confidence by being a mirror of my characteristics that shined and I did not know how to define. A few years after this experience I reconnected with a teacher from college. She had been a strong support throughout college and I never thought to turn to her for guidance after school. When I did reach out to her, she was more than happy to help me figure out some direction and options for making next steps in my career. The direction she provide—putting in volunteer time where I wanted to work—actually led to my first “foot in the door” and is meaningfully related to where I am today on my career journey. I owe so much to Paula and Lucia, thank you!

Which three women have been the most inspirational for you and why?

My mom, of course! She gave me the love of differences, adventure and perseverance. She was constantly taking us to cultural and art events and performances as well as providing opportunities to meet people that were different from us. For food outings we ventured often to Dim Sum or some international food festival. I remember attending as a young child what I call the “hippie camp”, I met my first deaf person there and I loved her as my friend and learned deeply about respecting differences. I have always admired my mom for being the first generation of Peace Corps volunteers and taking that bold leap of leaving the only culture she had known her whole life, Black and American. When she returned she worked in a hard inner-city social service job, and then while raising 2 children under the age of 7 she attended graduate school and received her Master’s in Social Work. These are just a few of the highlights.

Robbie, my godmother, she has taught me that I can do “it” with commitment, practice and perseverance. One recent example, is the emergency fund savings account I have been successful keeping and growing over the last few years. I have learned to be consistent in my contribution, a little definitely adds up over time and you have to stick to the commitment! It wasn’t easy at first but I was finally able to stick to it and the feeling is so rewarding.

And finally, my great grandmother born at the turn of the 20th century! She was an all-around badass. She had very little formal education and yet managed to buy and sell houses in the 1940’s. And though she had many strong traits two others of note, she was a self-trained carpenter and could go into the department store, look over a garment of clothing and without a pattern return home and make that item almost just as well.

What is your favorite self-care activity?


Tell us about your strongest leadership skill?

Listening! I feel this skill encompasses many things such as patience, openness and compassion.

What kind of activities do you pursue as a volunteer in your community and why?

I currently do not do any volunteer work in the community. If I did I might grocery shop or run errands for others that needed that assistance. I think I would also want to teach yoga to kids living on the street.

Can you describe one of your favorite collaborations and why it was so great?

I am drawing a blank. I certainly think collaborations are wonderful because I love entities utilizing the resources they already have and joining with other’s resources and making things happen!

What is your favorite inspirational quote and why?

I don’t really have just one. I certainly hear inspirational things all the time! I often hear things in yoga that help be carry on, they are pretty every day sayings…”You got this.” “Just show up, Plant feet-Stand tall-Hold on tight”.


The Eleanor Club is founded on service, inclusion, and influence. Our purpose is to speak frankly and directly about how women can better influence the events and circumstances that matter to them, their families, and communities.

We started the group as a place for women to connect and speak frankly about influence and inclusion, and its importance. Our intention is to create a network that motivates women – both individually and collectively – to challenge the status quo.

Our next gathering is taking place at Martha’s (Revolution Hall – located on the ground floor) on Friday, October 21 (6 pm to 8 pm). Thanks to Revolution Hall for serving as our host for this fun event.  This is a no host, 21+ event.

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