First Lady Tonnie Boston, Lamb of God MBC AND BLOOD CENTER
Tonnie Boston grew up in Milwaukee. She was born to a teen mom and raised by her grandparents, who stressed the importance of education. While she was active in extracurricular activities such as the drill team, dance team and captain of the pom-pom squad, after graduating from Rufus King High School, it wasn’t until college that she got a taste of the ‘real world.’
“I attended Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana during my first two years of college. Apart from trips to Tennessee with my grandparents, I had never traveled anywhere. To say that I was in a state of shock, is an understatement. I literally felt that I was experiencing another culture; like I wasn’t even in the United States anymore, but I loved every minute of it—the classics, football games and Mardi Gras,” said Boston, with a laugh.
Boston returned to Milwaukee to attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, earning a bachelor’s degree in business marketing. While finishing her degree, she worked full time at M&I Bank, starting out as an entry-level teller, but rapidly climbed the ladder to become a personal banker. During her last year in college, she was required to do an internship, so M&I placed her in their corporate marketing department, where she was employed full-time as an intern.
During this time, while attending school full-time and working full-time, Boston who grew up attending church with her grandmother, became increasingly uncomfortable with herself.
“I was always an achiever. I was disappointed that it had taken as long as it did for me to get my degree, and while I had advanced in work, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I started attending church regularly and began experiencing Christ for myself for the first time. This was new for me. I felt more vibrant. I got involved with the Young Adult Ministry and reconnected with a young man that I had grown up in church with, but he was two years younger than me. When they’re younger, you kind of dismiss them, but now he’s my husband,” she laughed.
Boston believes that God had her husband, Christopher, right there in her midst all along.
“It wasn’t right for me at the time. I had always said I didn’t want to live in Milwaukee, but God brought me right back here and my life really started to come together,” said Boston.
After graduating, Boston remained at M&I in the corporate marketing department. During this time she also began falling in love with her now husband, who shared with her his call to become a preacher.
“I had to come to terms with that—I hadn’t signed up to be a preacher’s wife, but by this time I was in love with him. I was feeling pigeonholed in my job. I was facing a lot of barriers, so I began looking for other career opportunities. I wanted to expand my horizons, learn more about public relations and experience broader ranges of writing,” said Boston.
She ended up at North Milwaukee State Bank as a branch manager, and from there she worked short stints for G Communications and Zizzo Group. Each position helped her hone her marketing, writing and communication skills. For a time, she even started her own small company, helping clients develop marketing campaigns.
“I did that for a couple of years, but it just wasn’t sustainable for me. I knew we wanted to start a family at some point, so I began looking for full time work,” she said.
Boston said that she searched for the right career path for about two years. During this time, she also experienced some life challenges.
“I had a couple of miscarriages while I also searched for more fulfilling career opportunities. It was a time where I had to depend on my faith. I went to several interviews, always advancing to the final interview stage, but I never got the job. Then, Ways to Work offered me a marketing position. I had only been there a short time, when I learned I was pregnant with twins. I went into early labor at 29 weeks, and Ways to Work extended me time that they didn’t have to. It was just the Lord. They valued me and the work that I brought to the table, and I’m so very grateful. I ended up staying with them for four years,” said Boston.
During this time, Boston’s husband had advanced in different roles in his career, as director of MICAH (Milwaukee Inner-city Churches Allied for Hope) and then LISC-Sustainable Communities. Eventually, he accepted a position as pastor at Lamb of God.
“One day, he received an invitation from the Blood Center to attend a faith-based information meeting at the Blood Center. He had a scheduling conflict, so he sent me. I attended and learned about organ and tissue donation. Prior to this meeting I had never considered organ donation and I certainly didn’t understand all that it involved. This meeting opened my eyes to a lot of things. After the meeting, I ended up spending time talking with the event organizer. I left that meeting thinking ‘I want to do something like what she does’. I took the information back to church and we decided to participate in their faith-based program.
“After about a year, the Blood Center sent a notice about an employment position for a community outreach person with their organization. It was the same role as the person I spoke with during that faith-based event. I applied for the position and got it,” she said.
These days Boson is in her element. She has developed and coordinates initiatives to educate people—particularly the African American community—about the merits and necessity of organ and tissue donations. Typically, African Americans are among the lowest ethnicities to become organ and tissue donors. One of the first things Boston did was set out to find out why. She hired a consultant to conduct focus group—asking more than 50 questions at each of three focus groups.
“The people were so engaged in the discussion that the facilitator could barely respond to all their questions. We learned it’s not that necessarily that African Americans are against organ and tissue donation, they want to learn more about it in their own environment,” said Boston.
Based on information obtained during the focus groups, Boston developed a program called CODE R (Churches for Organ Donation Education and Registration).
“We sit down with people, in THEIR environment, and have experts, doctors, and other people at the table, to talk about organ and tissue donation and respond to their questions. Previously the Blood Center registered 30-40 donors a year. Last year, we registered almost 100,” she said.
Their program also has ‘give back’ components. Youth that show an interest in becoming donors may be eligible for scholarships, churches that sign onto CODE R receive free tickets to annual gospel concerts, and participating churches receive $1,000 for their outreach ministry.
Through the Blood Center, Boston has found a unique way to mesh her vocation with her faith. She also finds time to remain involved in her sorority—Alpha Kappa Alpha—working with the debutante ball each year to help young ladies with etiquette skills, teaching them community responsibilities and business skills, and then introducing them to the community.
With all that’s on her plate, Boston still manages to devote her love, time and energy to some of the most important people in her life—husband, Christopher, and their six year old twin boys, Terak Christopher and Caius Torrie.