May 3, 2019

From Educator to Nonprofit Leader, Tonya Adair Is A Champion For Lifelong Learning

With a recently announced investment of $150k toward Career Pathways programming for Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Tonya Adair, Chief Impact Officer of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, is helping us to expand our reach and reimagine or impact on the lives of Detroit children and families.

Photo: Urban Content Studios/Darren Clark

Championing education, arts, and lifelong learning is right on brand for the former educator. A 21 years vet of Milwaukee Public Schools, Adair’s roles ranged from teacher to chief academic officer.

In 2014, she was honored as ‘Outstanding Educational Administrator of the Year’ for her “outstanding support for music education and teachers of music.”

Photo: Facebook/Tonya Adair

The Louisiana native earned her undergraduate degree in education at Grambling State University. “I hated high school,” says the veteran educationalist and philanthropist.  “But I became an educator so that other students wouldn’t have the same experience I had.”

Adair recounted her high school guidance counselor telling her that she should not bother going to college, saying that she was not college material.

“I truly went to school to prove her wrong.  And I’m so glad I did,” she says.

Photo: United Way for Southeastern Michigan

Adair went on to earn a master’s degree in education administration from Alverno College in Milwaukee.  As a graduate of both an HBCU and a PWI, Adair encourages students to continue their education with appreciation for both the academic and social benefits of the college experience.

“I encourage young people to experience an HBCU, but if that’s not what you want to do, just go to school and get an education,” she says.  “If that’s not a four-year institution, then continue to learn and grow in the ways that work for you.”

Following her own advice, Adair continues to learn.  She will be completing her PhD from Cardinal Stritch University next year.

She first encountered the Boys & Girls Clubs while teaching in Milwaukee.  The organization partnered with the school system for after school activities.  One of Adair’s students even earned the prestigious Youth of the Year award during that time.

“I’ve always been really passionate about helping other people and empowering them.  Even as a youth my mom said that I was always the one giving back to my friends and advocating for my friends,” she says. 

Photo: Urban Content Studios/Darren Clark

Growing up as the daughter of a pastor, Adair had the unique experience of learning to give back to her community at an early age.

“My mom did not allow us to be the ones sitting on a stage with everyone else looking up to us.  We were always taught to give back.”

Adair says that she has taken what her parents taught her and has honed a passion for helping others.

Years after her first encounters with the Boys & Girls Clubs, Adair is able to reflect on the meaningful connections made then that led her to where she is today. 

Photo: Urban Content Studios/Darren Clark

As the Chief Impact Officer for United Way for Southeastern Michigan she chose to take on the task of learning a new organization and a new city. The challenge was made less daunting because of partnerships and friendships established while in Milwaukee. 

We hope that Adair’s example and support will help our youth to see the value of being lifelong learner in establishing a well-rounded and competitive career.


Read Next: United Way for Southern Michigan Invests $150k to #Reimagine Career Pathways Programming at BGCSM

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