Women of the District
Every year in celebration of Women’s History Month, we have a tradition in the Legislature of celebrating women from each Senate and Assembly district who are accomplishing amazing things in their communities.
2023 Woman of the Year
Graciela Casillas, an 8X Hall of Fame inductee in combat sports, is a martial artist who achieved international recognition as a world-champion self-defense instructor and lecturer. After training in several traditional martial arts, Casillas began competing as a kickboxer in 1976, and in1979 she became the first fighter to hold world titles in both boxing and kickboxing by taking the World Women's Boxing Association's and the World Kickboxing Association's bantamweight championships. Although Casillas' Boxrec record is 5–0, Black Belt Magazine reported in May 1984 that she had 27 boxing matches, winning 15 by KO up to that point.
She holds two master's degrees, is an author, and works as an academic counselor at Oxnard College. She is celebrated globally for her remarkable accomplishments in the field of martial science.
2022: Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt
Lawanda holds an Associate of Arts degree from Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, a Bachelor of Science in Criminology from California State University Long Beach. She began her career with Santa Barbara County in 1979, becoming a Defense Investigator in 1984 and was later assigned to the Public Defender Office. In 1995, Lawanda became the first African-American woman in California to serve as Chief Investigator of a Public Defender’s office. She served in that role until her retirement in 2016, after more than 37 years of service to the County.
Ms. Lyons-Pruitt has been the president of the Santa Maria and Lompoc chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for over 14 years. She is a constant presence within the community and a continuous advocate for progress. Using this platform, she has worked to organize a wide array of initiatives from advocacy focused on civil rights and racial equity to administering COVID vaccination clinics within marginalized communities. Over the course of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Lawanda has continued with her passion to serve. She organized COVID-19 vaccination pop-up clinics serving many communities and focused on educating those who were wary of the COVID-19 vaccine.
2021: Regina K. Hatcher-Crawford
Regina K. Hatcher-Crawford is Ventura County Branch NAACP, President, and California – Hawaii State Conference Central Coast Area director.
While serving in the capacity of Ventura County Youth & College President, she was then elected as Southern Area Youth & College NAACP President representing NAACP Youth & College units across Southern California, Hawaii, Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Utah.
Her parents active in the civil rights movement instilled a strong sense of justice and the importance of standing up for your beliefs and being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Hatcher-Crawford graduated from California Lutheran University (CLU), with an Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) and a dual bachelor's degree in Business Organizational Leadership (BS) and Psychology (BA). Hatcher-Crawford is married to Kerry Crawford Sr. and has three adult children Kerry Jr., Ka’sha M., and Kristian Crawford.
2020: Beth Schneider
Professor Beth Schneider has been on the faculty in the Sociology Department at UC Santa Barbara since 1981; she is also a founding mother of the UCSB Women’s Studies Program (now called the Feminist Studies Program). Her primary research areas are in the areas of sexuality and gender studies, political and social movements, and health. Her publications include The Social Context of AIDS; Women Resisting AIDS: Feminist Strategies of Empowerment; and The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader.
In 2014, she was honored with the Sociology of AIDS Network Award for Career Contributions to the Sociology of AIDS and recently she won both the Feminist Mentoring Award from Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) and the Simon and Gagnon Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Sociological Association Sexualities Section.
At UCSB, she also received multiple honors for her teaching: Professor Schneider won the university Academic Senate Award as Outstanding Faculty Graduate Mentor, Margaret T. Getman Service to Students Award, and the UCSB Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award. Having spent thirty-eight years at UCSB, Professor Schneider has been a champion for diversity and inclusivity for our McNair Program and the larger campus community. Dr. Schneider has been an active member of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, serving a 3-year term as President, and in recent years, co-chairing its Candidate Development Committee.
2019: Yesenia DeCasaus
Yesenia DeCasaus is a Regional Coordinator for the United Domestic Workers /AFSCME Local 3930. Yesenia is also the Vice-President of the Central Coast Labor Council and represents workers in various capacities to including her service on the Workforce Development Board of Santa Barbara County.
She is an immigrant from Mexico. Born and raised in Guadalajara, Jalisco, she immigrated to this country at the age of 13. She became the head of her household after her disabled veteran father died when she was 17. As a young single mother, she enrolled in one of the California Community Colleges in pursuit of a better future. She later graduated from California State University San Bernardino and obtained a B.A in Communications with an emphasis in Public Argumentation and Rhetoric. She became a student activist and leader on campus.
Her activism, life experiences and leadership led her to the Labor Movement where she found a way to empower herself and others. As a Labor Leader in the Central Coast, she has been a strong voice for working women and has dedicated her career to advocate for workers’ rights. Following the sudden loss of her oldest son in 2014, Yesenia found a need in the community and started a Spanish support group for parents who have lost a child. She established a scholarship that is given to a community college student in her son’s name every year.
2018: Tracy Lehr
Tracy Lehr joined KEYT (ABC affiliate), serving Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties two decades ago as a reporter, anchor and host. She is currently the KEYT, KCOY(CBS) and KKTV (FOX) weekend anchor and evening live reporter. Tracy received her big break reporting on radio and TV in Vail, Colorado.
As the daughter of two university professors she thought it was important to continue her education, earning a master's degree in broadcast journalism from USC. Prior to joining the KEYT team, Tracy anchored at The Business Channel in Los Angeles, KHSL in Chico and the Ventura County News Network. She also co-hosted the national program RV-Today on the Outdoor Life Network.
Tracy solo anchored the Emmy and Bill Stout award winning breaking newscast the day the President Reagan died. Over the years she has won a number of Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards. Tracy lives in Ventura County and is the proud mother of a high school freshman and a UC Berkeley freshman. Her husband is a film composer and two-time lung cancer survivor.
2017: Julie Tumamait-Stenslie
Julie Tumamait-Stenslie is the tribal leader of the Barbareño-Ventureño Band of Mission Indians, a subset of Chumash people who numbered in the tens of thousands before the arrival of the Spanish, and a Chumash elder. She is the spokesperson for Ojai’s original inhabitants, and advocates for her culture’s vanishing ways and sacred sites.
Leading the Barbareño-Ventureño Band of Chumash families from Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, Tumamait-Stenslie has worked diligently to secure federal tribal recognition. Since 2007 she has also served on the Native American Heritage Commission, a nine-member body appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown, tasked with identifying and cataloging the state's cultural resources.
She keeps Chumash culture alive by educating Central Coast children and adults on Chumash traditions and history in schools, at workshops, and other events. A member of the Ojai Land Conservancy, Ojai Valley Museum, Julie advocates for the protection of Native American archeological sites, particularly in the Ojai Valley. Julie’s commitment to the preservation of the Chumash culture serves the Central Coast and the entire State of California well.