Natalia Duke can break into a seemingly endless smile while talking about her hometown of Key West, her rescued poodle mix Bodhi or the yoga retreats she leads on her father’s sailboat.
But even in her newfound role as top activist for the Florida Keys’ chapter of the national Women’s March movement, which delivered a huge protest around the world days the day after President Trump’s inauguration, Duke maintains an unassuming, indelible determination.
“I’m never used Excel before,” Duke says deadpan during an interview this week at the Green Pineapple on Duval Street, where fellow yoga teachers come and go and her gray dog, found running around Stock Island a few years ago, warmly nuzzles visitors who greet him.
Duke, whose surname dates back to the family that endowed Duke University in Chapel Hill, N.C., is never shrill, rude or loud but steadfast. Her power comes from inspiring those around her who see Duke as a natural born leader.
While the Trump name didn’t come up during an interview, Duke said she was disappointed by the election. She cried for three days, she said, unplugging from social media, and then awoke to learn of the Women’s March.
“I said, ‘I’m going to D.C.!’ ” Duke said of the outlet that helped her regain confidence in her nation’s democratic principles.
Key West’s local march drew 3,200 participants as more than 1 million protested the new leadership around the globe.
“It was amazing,” Duke said, describing waves of people filling the streets. “Everyone was so patient.”
Those who traveled with her to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21 for the landmark protest can’t help but gush about her dedication to the cause of equality, which Duke says has nothing to do with partisan politics and is meant to embolden all.
“She is fiercely motivated and compassionate,” said Anne Walters, a friend and fellow yoga teacher in Key West. “On the way to the march, she said, ‘Some people spend their life dreaming about their wedding day. I spend my life dreaming about this, being part of the revolution.’ ”
Duke, 34, was born in Miami and moved to the Keys as an infant, raised on Little Torch Key. Her mother fled Cuba as a 6-year-old and her father is a Miami native.
She and her sister Camilla grew up in the saltwater, sailing and swimming. Duke graduated from Key West High School after attending St. Mary Immaculate middle school and Sugarloaf’s elementary.
Duke, who did her undergraduate at the school that bears her family’s name — she says there is no connection between her family and the school in recent years — graduated from New York University ready to teach English as a second language, which she did for a few years in Monroe County as part of adult education until budget cuts struck.
Duke, who still teaches yoga part-time, is able to work a full-time, unpaid job as the Florida Keys point person for the Women’s March. She has met with Key West city commissioners one on one and on Wednesday was preparing to set up meetings with county leaders.
“It’s definitely my practice right now,” Duke said of her activism that matches her Buddhist principles. “It’s easy to get wound up from other people. I have this outlet now. The whole movement is pro-issue.”
Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez said he didn’t know what to expect when meeting Duke but was instantly won over.
“I thought she may be one of these highly intellectual, abstract types,” Lopez said, laughing.
“Then I got to talking to her,” Lopez said Friday. “I found out we were so in sync on so many of the issues. Very much plugged in, in tune, very down to Earth.”
Lopez said Duke is what Key West needs right now.
“My sincere hope is that she does stick around,” Lopez said. “We need someone like her.”
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen