Toni Fay is a well-established career woman. She received a B.A. degree from Duquesne University, a M.S.W. degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and a M.Ed. degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Fay began working as a caseworker for the New York City Department of Welfare in 1968. She was then named the director of social services for the Pittsburgh Drug Abuse Center in 1972. She also worked with the Governor’s Council on Drugs & Alcohol for the state of Pennsylvania and the National Council of Negro Women. She was then hired as an executive vice president of D. Parke Gibson Associates, a public relations firm. She was named manager of community relations for Time-Warner, Inc.
Fay launched her own management consultant firm TGF Associates in Englewood, New Jersey. In addition to her corporate career, Fay has also worked with former President William Clinton. She was appointed by President Clinton to the boards of the National Institute for Literacy and the Corporation for National and Community Service. She has also served on several boards for civic, social, and educational entities, including that of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, UNICEF, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and Library, the Apollo Theatre Foundation, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Bethune Cookman College, the Coro Foundation, the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, and the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation.
The Harlem Times had the opportunity to interview her, and get her thoughts on her many experiences and accomplishments.
Where were you born and raised?
I’m a native New Yorker, born in Manhattan. Until the 8th grade I was raised in upper Manhattan, and then my family moved to Teaneck, NJ.
What was it like growing up in Manhattan?
It was great growing up in Manhattan. You don’t realize how great it is until you go to other places! We tend to take the subway and the arts for granted. It was terrific and fortunately my parents exposed us to all the good things about New York, like Madison Square Garden and Radio City, so I was engaged in all of that. Everyone knew each other, it was great.
Did you face any challenges in the city?
Space and schools, the same problems parents face now. The neighborhood was really changing and going down. My parents said either I go to private school or we leave Harlem. The suburbs were beginning to open up, later to learn that they were really just redlining. We came to Teaneck, and I was really hoping to integrate.
What was living in the suburbs in New Jersey like?
It was so different you wouldn’t even believe it. We were only 15 minutes from Upper Manhattan, and most people were all New Yorkers, but they immediately wanted to put me back a grade without seeing my records. They were not used to middle class black children. I learned how to negotiate for myself very early for fair grades and access to the same kind of field trips. It was tough.
You have an impressive resume full of degrees from great schools, what inspired you to get such a good education?
So much comes from my mother and father both working. They said our job is to have the wherewithal to provide for the family, and would tell me and my brother that our job was school, to get an education. We were raised that way. Getting through college was the minimum. As opportunities opened up for minority students, I decided to go back to school and get a couple of graduate degrees.
Tell me about how you got your first job.
I came back home not knowing what I wanted to do. In those days a lot of us just went and signed up with the city. I was in the South Bronx as a welfare investigator and case worker for Department of Welfare.
The Harlem Times is focusing on Women’s History this month. Did you face any unique challenges in your career as a woman?
I’ve been one of the fortunate ones, having been exposed to real legends of history in terms of the women’s movement and black movement. My mentor is a woman by the name of Dorothy Height. She was the national president of the National Council of Negro Women. I worked for her and was exposed to the people who she worked with, like Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King. There absolutely are challenges with being a woman. It’s a double edged sword. During my time of advancing they used a term “two-fer” meaning I was African American and a woman. You didn’t know which one you were facing during an interview. You always feel that you are looked at a little differently and have to compete a little harder.
What was the most rewarding experience you had with an organization or company you worked for?
I’ve had such a career and I’ve been so lucky. Sometimes you pinch yourself and say how did I get in this room? I’ve met so many fabulous people. I remember being in South Africa when we published Nelson Mandela’s book, and getting to meet him! Those are the kind of things you remember. Even working in Harlem on jump starting the Empowerment Zone and hoping that there would be an opportunity to bring the neighborhoods back the way I remember them.
What advice do you have for young people who want to get involved in the types of organizations you’ve worked with?
Community service is important. When you get the opportunity to test new skills, really meet new people. All you have to do is show up and volunteer. I know people who have gotten all kinds of opportunities by being a volunteer. I always say, maintain decorum and get as much education as you can. Don’t be afraid of changing jobs if it’s on a track that exposes you to what you want to do, or traveling and seeing other cities. Other cities love a New Yorker’s energy! Don’t compromise your values – you are who you are. People are going to like people who are truthful and willing to put in the time to work on the craft.