Her name is Tonya McKenzie, author of the book, A Child’s Memories of Cartoons & Murder. It’s her personal story and victory in surviving gun violence, sexual assault and all-out generational dysfunction. Have any of your kids been in a Federal Witness Protection Program or survived gun violence and/or sexual assault? She watched her mother get shot and her boyfriend get murdered at 4 and a half years old. The murderer was such a menace that his parole was blocked twice by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger & Gov. Jerry Brown with a portion of the case handled by the office of Senator Kamala Harris’ office. She overcame all of the odds against her and was highlighted in a motherhood book that came out on Mother’s Day 2018, Amazing Moms. She became the first Black Woman elected to the Board of Directors for Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce in a city with only 4% African American population.
She started working with organizations that promote the understanding that there is a need to change the conversation from WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU to WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU because it matters! She says, “For those that have been affected by any level of trauma and sometimes get stuck, I am here to coach them through post-trauma recovery and guide them in using IDENTITY BRANDING and PERSONAL PR to enable themselves to use their strengths to grow their educational, social and career paths. It works. I am proof! I teach them to be their own best publicist! The qualities that one owns are the very qualities that will allow for them to flourish in life.” Read her inspiring exclusive interview below and stay tuned for the Podcast interview with our Founder, Gloria Ward.
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
When I look in the mirror, I see a mother, a wife, and a survivor. At the age of 5, I watched my mother get shot and her boyfriend be murdered. I spent my childhood in a federal witness protection program, in a prison for women with children, and time in a shelter with my mother. I always thought something must have been wrong with me for these things to be happening to me all of the time. My father was not around. I thought that there was something wrong with me. Was it my skin color? Was it my looks? Was I not deserving of love for some other undiscovered reason?
I used to see somebody unworthy of good things and happy times. It takes an incredible spirit to not have succumbed to the realities that I have had to live through. I now see a woman that I am proud to have survived to have become. That has not always been the case. I used to hate who I saw in the mirror. I loved my skin color but I hated how it kept me from certain relationships, how it had the potential to keep me out of jobs and positions of power and authority. I hated seeing a girl with no father and a mother that could not care less. I hated seeing a person with no understanding of how and why I went through so much growing up. I used to think that the person in the mirror was a problem. I now know that we cannot shoulder the bad decisions and actions of others. We are responsible for our own actions, intentions, and movements in this life. I have truly grown to love love the woman that I see in the mirror now.
What do you do for a living?
I am a business owner, a PR and Brand Consultant. I am also a public figure in the Los Angeles South Bay as the President of the North Redondo Beach Business Association, on the Board of Directors of the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce and appointed to the City of Redondo Beach GPAC and on the Redondo Beach Police Board. I spend my life trying to help others tell their stories to connect to their target audience.
How do you think self-love plays a role in success?
Adopting self-love as a way of life can change your whole being. It gives you direction and guides your decisions. If you notice, people that have a level of self-hate, participate in self-destructive behavior. They do drugs, over-eat and other things that harm their bodies. They make decisions that are best for others and harmful to their own finances and circumstances. Strong self-love will have you considering how your decisions will affect your finances, your health, your career, your reputation, and your future. Self-love is a lifestyle. It keeps me focused on my physical health. So, I always find time to work out because that then keeps my energy up so that I can have incredibly productive days. Self-love guided my parenting. I am always reminded that my kids are a reflection of me so I treat them as such. I pour into them what I would have poured into me as a child at their age. Self-love allows me to foster a healthy relationship with my spouse. I am able to give him the best of me without reservation. This deepens our trust and communication. In my career, I know what I bring to the table. My uniqueness is my strength. If I didn’t know and love that, I would miss out on so many opportunities. Self-awareness and loving who you are will allow you to flourish in so many areas of your life.
How do you think we, as women, can work together to lift each other?
I do not think that we could be progressive and successful as women without uplifting each other. There is a large portion of female business owners who have companies that cater to women. It might be services or products. We have to support each other. We have to be the 3rd party endorsers. Also, nobody understands the plight of a women’s life like other women. There is no man that will ever understand our struggles with menstrual cycles and other physical issues. Motherhood issues, complexities, and support is something that bonds many of us. Careerwise, we can always be an advocate and cheerleader for other women. Helping or celebrating another woman’s shine and success does not dim your own light. We can all shine together. It’s a beautiful thing to see women work together and make amazing things happen.
Have you had any adversities that you’ve had to overcome in order to achieve success?
Getting through college was hard. I had the enormous responsibility of helping my mother financially while I pushed through college. Right after I completed my college studies, my mother passed away from a drug overdose. My 2 younger sisters (5 & 7 years old) found her on the kitchen floor one morning. My fiancé, I moved back to Northern California, took custody, and raised these 2 girls as if they were our own. We most certainly were not ready for this responsibility but it was the right thing to do because the alternative would have been detrimental to them. Before it was all said and done, I had to battle for custody to keep them out of easy access to a known pedophile. It was worth the fight. However, this kept me from continuing my education and doing many things that I had planned for myself and my marriage. I took a detour but never allowed for a dead-end or roadblock to keep me from progressing.
What has been your greatest accomplishment to date?
My greatest accomplishments personally have been sending the oldest of my 4 kids off to college. He plays basketball for Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Having an African American son these days can be a scary thing. Also, sustaining my marriage for almost 20 years is something that I am supremely proud of in a time when divorce is as common as changing passwords. We have been able to work through things and sustain a marriage with 4 kids. Professionally, my greatest accomplishments took place in Northern California where I played a major role in helping to raise over a million dollars to open a new YMCA and touch so many lives that I am still connected with. Also, starting to utilize all of my cumulative sales, marketing, and PR experience to start my own business and enter into the entrepreneur world makes me very proud because it also laid a path for me to be able to write, publish and go on tour with my first book. I am very proud of my personal and professional accomplishments.
What inspires you to keep growing?
My children inspire me to keep growing. It is my responsibility to set an example as my grandparents did for me. My grandfather and his 16 brothers and sisters from Mississippi were a part of the Great Migration to California. They worked hard, helped each other and left a legacy for their kids and grandkids. They are a part of the fabric of this nation. The lessons that they taught about hard work, caring for family, supporting education, and being a contributing citizen were always on display. I know that my job is to leave the world a better place than I got it. I will always do my part and teach my offspring to do the same. We are not done until we are done.