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College and Career Pathways

Tonya Allen: Changing the Odds for Detroit Children on the Trailblazers.FM Podcast

The Skillman Foundation President and CEO Tonya Allen appeared on a recent episode of The Trailblazers.FM podcast, hosted by Stephen A. Hart. Tonya and Stephen discuss Tonya’s upbringing in Detroit, racial equity, uplifting black men and boys, and the work she does to change the odds for Detroit youth.

Listen to the full episode below.


  • I am really grateful for this broader discussion about racial equity and what it means to be an equitable organization.
  • A lot of times people confuse representation with equity.
  • Inclusion is messy, but as a leader, I have  the opportunity to question everything to make sure that we show up around the values that we have.
  • My fondest memory of Detroit is actually growing up in neighborhoods and communities with lots of children and adults watching over us.
  • Being outside and playing in the neighborhood, children were exploring and expanding their world and learning the natural consequences of boundaries.  That’s how we grow up.
  • Power is organized people or organized money.
  • The Skillman Foundation is a private institution that focuses on children’s issues in Detroit, and creating the opportunity agenda for Detroit’s children.
  • Instead of helping children beat the odds, our work is about changing the odds for children.
  • We’re focusing on preparing our children for their future, using a rock climbing versus a career ladder approach.
  • Hope has more significance and more importance to your trajectory in life.  Do you believe that it can happen?  Do you believe it is possible?
  • Black male achievement should be a normal part of our vocabulary. These are words that should describe our norm, not our aspirations.
  • For a long time we have talked about the challenges and barriers that Black men face, as things that they have constructed, rather than that these are challenges that Black men have to overcome. 
  • My work is rooted in neighborhoods and schools. I would talk to parents about the things that they care deeply about, and almost every conversation I had there was a woman there who said ‘Help us save our boys! Help us save our boys!’ And it wasn’t to say that they didn’t care deeply about their girls, but they could not name all of the challenges that were facing their boys and they could feel it. It was palpable for them and as much as they were working hard to protect their children, they knew that even though they were doing as much as they could, It would be very difficult for them to navigate all of the challenges and the barriers and it would be very difficult for them to achieve what they should achieve, like any other child.
  • You can’t talk a bout Black uplift, community uplift or children’s well-being without talking about how Black men are doing.
  • Black men are the bellwether for the Black community and for our children.
  • We have to figure out how to do targeted work at the same time that we are doing broad, collective and expansive work.
  • The challenges we face are not a Black man problem.  This is an American problem.  This is the construct of our country, and our country is responsible for fixing this problem, not Black people.
  • It is a false narrative for Black men to think that they need to own the solution because they know the problem so intimately.
  • I try to use my seat at the table to focus on results.
  • Data doesn’t define you, but it should inform you.
  • Let’s get off the conversation.  Let’s start doing the work, and then we can perfect the work as we go.
  • When you get focused on intentionality, the money will follow.
  • It takes courage to take our idea to implementation and get to tangible results and impact.
  • Get exact.  Get intentional and move! Create momentum.
  • Not being successful doesn’t mean that you are a failure
  • If I fail that means I have a higher platform and a better shot the second time.
  • I’m not worried about failing, I’m worried about winning.  I’m trying to create a trajectory or pathway that allows me to win.
  • I have to be resilient, consistent and focused on my goal, and I know I’m going to win.
  • Whatever it is that you haven’t done, take the idea and break it down into four steps.  Focus on step one, and make the commitment to complete step one no matter how long it takes.
The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

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