Meet Toya Cirica Bell, Board Chair

Meet Toya Cirica Bell, Board Chair

Toya Cirica Bell is a career attorney with a legacy of professional and community engagement. She is this year’s Leadership Austin board chair.

Toya was born in Japan and grew up in San Antonio, Texas. She began working in Austin in 1992 and relocated shortly after completing a judicial clerkship for the Texas Court of Appeals. She is a graduate of Rice University and received her law degree from the College of William & Mary. Upon her arrival in Austin, Toya became immediately engaged in our community. In 2002 she was recognized for her career and community accomplishments by the Austin Business Journal as a Profile in Power.

Over the years, Toya has served on the board and held leadership positions with the Austin Young Lawyers Association, Austin Bar Foundation, Austin Black Lawyers Association, Travis County Women Lawyers Association, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Junior League of Austin, Lone Star Girl Scouts Council, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Greenlights, Conspirare, Association of Rice University Alumni-Austin, ASA Austin, Town Lake Links, Executive Women in Texas Government, and the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce. In 2016, she received an Attorney Award from the Travis County Women Lawyers Association and Foundation. Earlier this year, she was featured in the inaugural edition of Achievements in Black Austin. Toya is a member of the Texas Lyceum and the Leadership Austin Essential Best Class Ever of 2011.

What do you enjoy about living in Austin?

I’ve always considered Austin as a city with great promise and possibility. We have a community culture of innovation, creativity, intellectual curiosity and determination that continually sparkles with visionary ideas and leaders willing to make those ideas a reality. I love the fact that this is a city where everyone can participate in creating the future and I sincerely appreciate the vigilance and efforts made to ensure opportunity for all of our citizens. My husband, Stephen and I enjoy the vibrancy and treasure the natural beauty of the city we call home.

What motivates you to be engaged in the community?

I believe in community service and community trusteeship as a central part of my life. I’ve always enjoyed helping others and thinking about the big picture. I grew up in a family where giving back was encouraged at an early age. I recall collecting donations with my grandmother for various causes including a charitable organization that she and her friends founded — and all the things I learned from her about empathy and having a charitable heart. Growing up I spent time volunteering with my mother at the first MLK Parade in San Antonio — at the time it was a big vision that I watched become a reality. I even had the memorable experience of having a conversation with civil rights icon Rosa Parks.

From my mother, I learned about community needs and how to have an impact. She was a nonprofit Executive Director for more than 25 years and local president of our sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. They were considered innovative in the 1970’s when they built an affordable housing apartment complex for senior citizens – one that they still own today. These experiences and others like the many training opportunities and experiences that I had as a Junior League member, have stayed with and motivated me to become engaged in the community as a volunteer, collaborator, and leader.

How did you become engaged with Leadership Austin? What aspects of the program do you still think about?

I am curious by nature and was attracted by the prospect of learning more about Austin, cultivating leadership skills and connecting with a group of new friends who shared my passion for community engagement. The organization and the Essential program has a fantastic reputation and it was something I aspired to be a part of– not to mention being recruited by a true Volunteer Extraordinaire, Libby Malone and Pete Gasper, a person who seems to be connected to just about everyone in Austin by less than 3 degrees (smile). I truly appreciate and treasure the opportunity that I had to be a graduate of the Essential 2011 program. I connected with so many of my classmates as we learned about the issues and opportunities in our community and how to approach them through the lens of Leadership Austin’s core values. We also connected as we engaged with each other during the “Walk and Talk” aspect of the program. It was my goal to visit iconic places in Austin for my walk and talks. We shared an “Austin experience” while getting to know one another. I recall those meetings fondly. I also learned so many valuable lessons and pieces of information from the program. One lesson that stands out is that although we each may enter the program with a specific community focus or passion, to be an effective leader we should strive to be multi-faceted in our understanding and approach. Mark Curry spoke to us about the importance of understanding the interrelation between many community issues as a path to becoming more effective leaders. It’s a piece of advice I hold on to and often share with others.

I found the following note of my comments made to my class at the 2011 closing retreat:

“On May 17, 2011, I will graduate as a member of the Best Class Ever of Leadership Austin! This year has been one of immersion, fulfillment and engagement. I was able to seize the opportunity to learn about the issues affecting our community and to collaborate with leaders and classmates on how to solve such issues through stakeholder engagement and cross-sector collaboration. Thank you for an experience that has cultivated, nurtured and ignited my passion for community service and thoughtful leadership for the good of our community.”

This heightened level of thoughtfulness has enabled me to approach my personal and professional life through a much broader lens of possibilities. I anxiously look forward to an even greater level of engagement with the people and passions in my life.

What are your areas of focus for this year? What are you looking forward to as board chair?

This year, our focus will be on elevating and amplifying the core values of Leadership Austin. We will accomplish this through a constellation of internal and external initiatives that will include alumni, program participants, board members and the greater Austin community.

Community Trusteeship–Promoting community stewardship
Inclusiveness–Identifying, acknowledging and avoiding bias
Collaborative Decision-Making–Embracing and maximizing opportunities to collaborate
Personal Responsibility–Seeking civility in community and civic engagement

We have an award-winning CEO, Christopher Kennedy and a fantastic group of individuals serving on the board this year. I am looking forward to collaborating with each of them to support Leadership Austin–our core values–our passion for Austin–and our shared vision to serve as the conveners and facilitators of meaningful and impactful community engagement.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Visionary & Collaborative.

What are a few qualities that best describe you?

Visionary–I like to think big and optimistically toward solutions and opportunities for the future. I really enjoy problem-solving and using a futuristic approach.

Creative–I enjoy the creative process and apply creativity to my work and personal life throughout the day. Whether it’s being surrounded by artwork, seeing a perfect palette of colors, attending a performance, enjoying nature or working on an arts project, these things spark ideas and productivity in all aspects of my life.

Collaborative–I love being a connector of people and ideas–and working collaboratively in a way that values the participation of all those are at the table.

Gracious and Graceful–My mother encouraged me to be always be gracious and graceful. It’s a piece of advice that I live by.