Mrs. Tonya C. Evans
First Lady of Greater Mount Eagle Baptist Church, Racine)
Tonya C. Evans grew up in Flint, MI, the only child born to Kenneth and Harriet Scott. She lived in a middle class household where her mother worked as an educator for more than 33 years and her father was the Director of a program called Model Cities. When funding for the program was cut, her father decided to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. Witnessing her father’s response to adversity helped shape her life forever.
“I was in elementary school when he lost his job. My father had always aspired to become an attorney. He used this opportunity to return to school and get his law degree. This allowed me to see someone who had goals and aspirations and took advantage of opportunities as they came. It doesn’t matter how or when these opportunities arise, you must be prepared to seize them. Seeing him graduate from Texas Southern Thurgood Marshall School of Law was a proud moment,” said Evans.
Evans graduated from the Flint Public Schools and attended Grambling State University where she earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English. After that, she went to law school for a year, but decided that was not ‘her cup of tea,’ so she returned home to Flint. She began attending her home church, Foss Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, and eventually married her husband, Keith, who was an Associate Minister at the church.
“I was acquainted with my husband because his mother was my volleyball coach in high school, but we never dated before then. When I returned to Flint after college, we became reacquainted and started dating,” said Evans.
Evans’ first job out of college was working with the Girl Scouts, recruiting girls from urban areas to join the organization. For about nine years she worked with girls, encouraging them to join the organization because it was not a traditional choice, especially for girls of color. She developed special programs to gain their interest and keep them involved with the organization so they would be able to take advantage of some of the educational opportunities available to advance their college experience.
Following her employment with the Girl Scouts, Evans worked for Mott Children’s Health Center, which provided medical, dental and mental health services to uninsured and under insured children in Genesee County, MI. She managed in-school health clinics, providing physical and mental health services to children and their families. Evans remained there until 2002, when her husband assumed the pastorship of Greater Mt. Eagle Baptist Church in Racine.
After moving to Racine, Evans accepted employment as program director with the Cooperative Extension of Wisconsin’s Nutrition and Education Program. She left that position to eventually become the director of HeadStart for the Racine-Kenosha Community Action Agency. After three years, she moved into her current position of Director of Milwaukee Enrollment Services for the State of Wisconsin. In this position, Evans and her team are responsible for determining individual eligibility for FoodShare, Medicaid and childcare for the residents of Milwaukee County.
“The work I do is fulfilling. I believe it’s the work that God intended for me to do—supporting families so they can be successful. I’ve been working with at-risk or disadvantaged families since completing college, and working with agencies to help them determine a vision and strategy to reach underserved communities in a more efficient and effective manner. Generally, when I first come into those agencies, they’ve been undergoing some change or difficulty and I help guide them through the change or difficulty, while implementing strategies to help them better implement the good work they are doing,” said Evans.
She acknowledges that sometimes there is a fine line between the work she does with government agencies and being the First Lady at Great Mount Eagle Baptist Church.
“Working in a governmental agency where your religion and values can come up against the policies you implement can be challenging. Sometimes people’s expectations of who they think you are because of your title as First Lady, creates issues. For some reason, people think that because you are a First Lady, you are obligated to allow them to do pretty much what they want.
“Some women have aspirations and dreams of being a First Lady; that was never my goal. In fact, I didn’t join church until I was 16 years old and didn’t really develop a true relationship with Christ until I was about 25. Growing up, my parents were not regular churchgoers, though they are now. I’m often amazed and I’m in awe of what God can do if you submit your life to Him. He can change your direction in a heartbeat. I never saw myself where I am now and it’s sometimes a struggle,” she said.
In addition to her demanding career and duties as a First Lady, Evans and her husband have a 15 year old daughter, Michaiah, and an adult ‘bonus’ daughter, Jasmine, who lives in Utah and has a doctorate degree in physical therapy.
“It’s a struggle. She’s a teenager, and she is 100 percent teenager, so we get everything that comes along with that. We try to help her develop a healthy relationship with Christ, get along with her peers and stand on the values that God expects of her—that’s a full time job alone. It sometimes becomes tiring, but you keep going and when you need a rest the Lord will provide,” she said.
Evans is also a much sought-after motivational speaker and facilitator.
“My husband was acquainted with Pastor McVicker at Christ the King Baptist Church, so when we first moved to Racine, Pastor McVicker asked me to speak at a Women’s Conference. He was familiar with the strategic planning work I had done and wanted me to do the same for Christ the King. I had also met Karen Waddles, from Illinois, at a different Women’s Conference, and we developed a relationship. She had a scheduling conflict for a speaking engagement and asked if I would speak in her stead. Through word-of-mouth, those two connections have exposed me to several audiences in Wisconsin and Illinois, and things just picked up from there. It’s God exposing me to people and opening doors for me,” she said.
Even though juggling her schedule can sometimes be challenging, Evans finds her life rewarding.
“Like most First Ladies, the interaction we are able to have with the congregation and the community, along with the opportunities to witness up close and see those ‘aha-ha’ moments as a result of a message or teaching is awesome! When people share their relationship they have with Christ with you and you see how they have grown, it’s amazing. It’s like being on the Mount of Transfiguration; I regularly get to see people transformed and become their best selves. I count it a blessing and a joy to be able to witness that first hand,” she said.