Rest in peace, Kandace.
Kandace Contessa Suggs, a beloved figure in the Bay Area dance community who dedicated her life to helping the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, died Sept. 10 after a private battle with cancer. She was 48.
Suggs, a mother of two, taught aerobics, fitness and hip-hop dance to students of all ages and skill levels, launching her professional dance career with the Raiders football team in the 2000s, and also perfoming professionally with the Golden State Warriors, her family said.
Simultaneously, she built a successful career as a psychiatric technician and nurse at the Sonoma Developmental Center, spending two decades treating patients at the state-run facility.
More recently, the Vallejo resident served as a frontline psychiatric worker during the COVID-19 crisis, risking her life to help patients in need.
“She was an angel to a lot of people…her life was lived in the service of helping others,” said her husband of nearly 20 years, Hollywood film producer Ephraim Walker, recalling Suggs’ ability to connect with suffering patients.
“When people were in a dark place, she could help bring them out of it through her personality and her training. She helped so many people get well.”
Earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from San Francisco State University, and a Master of Science in Counseling and Family Therapy from the University of Phoenix, Suggs used her therapeutic expertise to heal scores of suffering people over the years. Working with clients throughout the current global pandemic, she risked her life to comfort those in emotional and mental pain.
“She was everybody’s favorite nurse, because she made clients feel good,” Walker added.
In times of struggle, the Vallejo High School alumna was often at her best, drawing on the mental toughness she’d developed over more than four decades of dance and martial arts training.
Born in Okinawa, Japan, Suggs was the proud daughter of Navy serviceman and former Vallejo Fire Department Chief Engineer Hilard DeKater Suggs, who passed on to his daughter a passion for the fighting arts.
She held third-degree black belts in both Uechi-Ryū and kajukenbo, fusing her uncanny physical strength with an innate, physical grace.
“I always thought of her as the queen,” said Walker, recalling that his wife possessed “the heart of a lioness…as graceful and powerful as a beautiful boxer.”
Upon moving to Vallejo from Japan at age five, Suggs quickly earned the nickname “Kan-Dance” among classmates. A competitive cheerleader in high school, her professional dance career included a stint as lead instructor with the Raiderettes. A gifted chorographer, Suggs also taught fitness and dance at various gyms in the Bay, cultivating a devoted roster of clients.
A caretaker and healer by nature, Suggs was known to bring homeless people back to her house, where she prepared them fresh meals. Her lesser-known skills included a penchant for pool hustling: she bested a host of local billiards players over the years, turning her poolroom victories into rent money and presents for their kids, Walker recalled.
While battling cancer in recent years, Suggs still experienced some of her most joyful moments thanks to her beloved son and daughter. A devoted “track mom,” Kandace cheered on son Crenshaw Taurean, 15, during his standout freshman year of track and field at American Canyon, and served as a PTA member while daughter Kimora Catherine, 9, became a perrenial straight-A student.
Suggs is also survived by siblings DeKater and Kusinya Suggs, and a host of nieces, nephews, and other relatives. She was the daughter of Hilard DeKater and Bobbie Suggs, of Elkhart, Indiana.
A memorial service will be held Sept. 25 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Mark Community Church, 45 9th St., Vallejo, CA.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to her children at https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/ephraimwalker?locale.x=en_US.