Meet TONYA LEWIS TAYLOR, songstress, author, former music industry executive and community leader…and her journey is not even close to being finished.
For the past twenty years TONYA has mixed her experiences in the music industry with her passion for helping the youth in our Black communities flourish to create these programs, the Entertainers 4 Education Alliance and the I WILL GRADUATE Youth Development Program.
The Entertainers 4 Education Alliance is a youth development program geared towards keeping our children in school and off of the streets. “For the last 15-20 years we have used the slogan ‘Smart is the New Cool‘. It is the essence of our program. We stress to our youth how important their education is. Yes, it is cool to be a great student and graduate, go to college and open up your own business. No, it is not cool to be a drug dealer or a gang banger in the streets. We have to instill values into our children and change the narrative about what is cool.”
TONYA uses her plentiful celebrity connections to garner support for the program. Past participants include some of the best and brightest in entertainerment such as 50Cent, Alicia Keys, Swizz Beats, Omar Epps, Daymond John of ABC’s “Shark Tank”, former NY Knick John Starks, Kanye West and Lil Bow Wow. These celebrities make appearances at schools and special events to speak with the youth about the importance of education and making good choices for their futures. The program has been highly successful, a whopping 96% of the participating students graduate high school and go on to college!
The I WILL GRADUATE Youth Development Program is another facet of the dropout initiative. The program functions in 48 public schools throughout New York City, serving over 15,000 children per week. It provides our NYC youth with positive ways to spend their spare time through organized recreation, tutoring programs, mentoring programs, part-time work and volunteer opportunities. “I WILL GRADUATE is not just the name of our program, it is a powerful declaration! “I WILL GRADUATE!” is a statement that represents the student taking responsibility for their success. We will be there to help and guide you, we will be the wind beneath your wings, but you gotta do the work.”
TONYA has also taken up the fight against gun violence with her latest project the Gun Violence Destroys Families Initiative. To drive this important message home, she contacted the parents of the late POP SMOKE, a rising Hip-Hop star from Brooklyn, N.Y. who was shot to death on February 19th, 2020 during a home-invasion. His mother and father, Audrey and Greg Jackson, graciously accepted the task of filming a public service announcement to show how gun violence affects the families of victims.
“Gun violence is such a huge issue in our communities and it is taking away too many of our children. The first step for us, as a people, is to take ownership of the problem. What we are witnessing is the byproduct of 400 years of slavery and segregation. We know that, now let’s move forward. We have to do what needs to be done ourselves! There is enough money in the Black community to pool resources together and make things happen. We need programs in the community for parents to bring their children to. Places where kids can learn and grow and find out what they’re interested in. We need mentors for the youth and to build strong community connections and strong community relations with the police who patrol our communities. This is where we need to start.”
The bible tells us, “…If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” And TONYA is a believer! “My part is a small fraction of a fraction. We all have to do our part. If I add my mustard seed and you add yours and he adds his, we will reach our goals. If we all come together we can make a difference.”
Giving back to the community is something that is near to her heart. “Once upon a time someone gave me a chance and blessed me, so I want to share the blessing. I want our youth to have the opportunity to be great! Let’s show them that the choices they make today will affect their lives 5 years from now. Let’s help them avoid poor choices and make better decisions that set them on a path towards positivity and success.” These brilliant programs are available to all NYC public school students. Check out the website for information regarding registration and special events.
TONYA LEWIS TAYLOR and her team ask that you please help increase support for these programs by posting and sharing the Gun Violence Destroys Families PSA once per week for 6 weeks on your website, social media, or weekly newsletter. In doing this you will help bring awareness to the gun violence problems plaguing our youth and spotlight the devastating effects of gun violence on families. THANK YOU!
Social Media: @IWILLGRADUATE @IAMTONYALEWISTAYLOR