Tonya Allen, a serial “idea-preneur,” serves as The Skillman Foundation’s president & chief executive officer. Her two-decade-long career has centered on pursuing, executing and investing in ideas that improve her hometown of Detroit and increase opportunities for its people, especially children, who live in under-resourced communities. In her current role, Allen aligns the complexities of education reform, urban revitalization, and public policy to improve the well-being of Detroit’s and the nation’s children. Allen has been instrumental in many successful philanthropic, government and community initiatives, including:
- the 10-year, $120-million Good Neighborhoods Initiative, which increased graduation rates by 25 percent (from 65 to 81 percent), youth programming by 40 percent, and reduced child victimization by 47 percent;
- the creation and expansion of Grow Detroit’s Young Talent, which increased summer jobs for youth from 2,500 to 8,200 paid positions;
- co-chairing the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, which successfully advocated for $667 million for the Detroit Public Schools Community District, return of an elected school board to the district, and more charter accountability; and
- serving the boys and men of color field as chair for Campaign for Black Male Achievement and co-chair for My Brother’s Keeper Detroit and Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color.
Allen was named to Crain’s Detroit Business 40 under 40 list, received the national Brick Award given to activists under age 30 by Rolling Stone Magazine, and was one of the first Detroiters to receive the prestigious Marshall Memorial Fellowship. She was named a Detroit News Michiganian of the Year in 2015, a Crain’s Detroit Business Newsmaker of the Year in 2015, and one of the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “5 Nonprofit Innovators to Watch” in 2013. Allen was named 1 of 20 Bicentennial Alumni from University of Michigan. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and master’s degrees in social work and public health, all from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. She serves on numerous boards, both local and national, including the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (Board Chair), the Community Education Commission, (Board Vice-Chair), the Council on Foundations (Board Vice-Chair), the Detroit Children’s Fund, the Detroit Parent Network, the Executives’ Alliance for Boys & Men of Color (Board Co-Chair), the Mayor’s Workforce Development Board, the Metropolitan Affairs Coalition, the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation, Michigan Future, Inc. (Board Chair), Oakland University (Board Chair), the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, and the University of Michigan Alumni Association.
Before joining The Skillman Foundation in 2004, Allen worked as a program officer for both the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the Thompson-McCully Foundation. She founded Detroit Parent Network, a parent membership organization dedicated to improving educational options for children, and led the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Rebuilding Communities Initiative in Detroit.
Allen’s personal ambition is to live a balanced, joyful, and authentic life. Her sense of humor and faith keep her inspired and grounded as she works to make Detroit, the city she loves, a better, stronger, more thriving place for children. She’s married to husband, Louis, and has three daughters, Phylicia, Brianna and Alanna.