Hand writing on a Girls Inc. post card that says "Strong, Smart, Bold".

"Women can always be inspired by looking to other women.”

This quote, from Girls Inc. PNW CEO, Cyreena Boston Ashby, beautifully preludes the interview we shared with her, while also summarizing the important work being done by Girls Inc. of the PNW. Founded in 1864, Girls Inc. is dedicated to empowering, educating and equipping youth for their futures. With over 77 local centers and partnerships in schools across the country, they provide lasting mentorship, research-based programming and a safe and inclusive pro-girl environment. 

Looking to other women for inspiration is also the creative code behind our latest offering, Empower Mint, a one-of-kind wellness tea made by women and released in partnership with Girls Inc. PNW. We designed this blend intentionally to support the whole woman, just as Girls Inc. PNW strives to do the same with their youth. To talk more about empowerment, inspiration and womanhood, we were lucky enough to chat with the CEO of Girls Inc. PNW, Cyreena Boston Ashby. 

Cyreena is a Portland-raised advocacy rockstar and has worked as the Director of the Portland African American Leadership Forum, Imagine Black, as well as the CEO of the Oregon Public Health Institute. She took the helm of Girls Inc. PNW in 2020 and since then has lead the organization through the challenges of the pandemic, including a shifting educational landscape. 

We’re always looking for inspiration in new places. Where do you turn when you’re in need of inspiration? What / who inspires you in your day to day?

“Women can always be inspired by looking to other women! In my day-to-day life I love looking to my closest girlfriends who are wonderful women, working very hard each day to balance so many facets of their lives—careers, family life or motherhood, serving our communities, AND self care—you name it. Whereas there are many great examples of inspiring women in history and in today’s news I must thank those closest to me that allow me to keep going by the awesome examples they set for me and others.” 

Who is a woman in your life that taught you to be Strong, Smart and Bold?

“A woman in my life that taught me to be Strong, Smart and Bold is my grandmother Clara. Today she would be 121 years of age!  She was born at a time of legalized segregation in the South and was forced to leave the fifth grade to take on work as a maid, which was a common (but forced) occupation for Black women then. Born into poverty and racism, she worked hard to overcome these terrible barriers, and eventually migrated north, where she became a prominent member of Toledo, Ohio’s community and purchased a home that she rented to people traveling into town for factory jobs.  Clara was also the town’s midwife for local Black women. As a matter of fact, she delivered my mother who she went on to adopt and raise with my grandfather. She overcame so many odds despite racism, sexism, and hatred to have a wonderful life as a community leader. I think about her every day.” 

What does empowerment mean to you? How do you strive to empower Girls Inc. youth?

“Empowerment means the ability to reach for one’s goals, and to provide space for others, making it easier for them to do the same. Our mission at Girls Inc. is to inspire girls and all youth to be strong, smart and bold, and we do this through after school, summer, and year-around programs and advocacy that give them the social and emotional skills they need to make more informed and healthier choices. We support these skills so that girls show up to school settings, friendships, and relationships able to stand up for what they need and to speak for others. This is how we strive to empower Girls Inc. youth, and over the last 25 years we have supported thousands of girls and youth who have gone onto lead and enjoy healthy and empowered adult lives. We could not be prouder of our evident impact.” 

What is coming up for Girls Inc that you are excited about?

“On April 27 we are celebrating our 25th Anniversary at our Girls Night Out Gala!  Please come and join us as we celebrate our empowered outcomes from our last 25 years – and share exactly what we are set to do over the next 25 years to keep inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold.”

Are you a tea drinker? What is your favorite tea? In what context do you reach for a cup of tea?

“I LOVE tea! I’m a cold matcha drinker myself. But, one of my favorite things to do is to reach for a cup of Steven Smith TeamakerLord Bergamot, especially on a holiday morning, with a little bit of cream and honey.”

Here at Smith, we believe that by supporting the whole woman, we’re supporting a healthier, happier and more holistic world. To support Girls Inc. PNW and their invaluable work, we’re donating a portion of the proceeds from every carton of Empower Mint sold. Treat yourself to some much needed wellness or send a token of appreciation to the women who support and uplift you, and know that you’re funding an important cause when you do. 

Cyreena, thank you for the example you set, for the inspiration you offer, and for taking the time to chat with us. Thank you, Girls Inc. PNW, for the advocacy, mentorship and opportunity you provide to the next generation of leaders, thinkers, problem-solvers—and teamakers. If the future is female, the future is in good hands. 

Written by Jeffrey Miller