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Meet Trailblazer Tonya McKenzie

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tonya McKenzie.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Tonya. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started flexing my marketing and public relations muscle at California State University, Northridge when I was a student. Working for the AS REC department, I learned the basics of marketing every season when it was time to start pushing the programs and getting signups of students to play in the leagues. Also, because I was at Northridge working as a manager at the time that we needed to put together the referendum to help build the new facility after the major earthquake, I was brought in as a part of that team. With my boss, Trent Morgan, we would visit other universities and check out their facilities to put together the plan to sell to the students and community. This was the lesson in storytelling. We had to sell them our vision.

CSUN was one of the first campuses to initiate an anonymous HIV testing program. I spent the summer of my junior year working for Dr. Fred Strache in the Student Health Center marketing and promoting that program throughout our campus and community. It was highly successful. In just a few months, we were able to get hundreds of people tested.

I went on to work for an advertising agency in Oakland, California while building programming and staff at the Mt. Diablo Region YMCA, Oakley Branch. We needed to raise money to build a new facility. The town was becoming a city and needed a facility that could serve the increase of residents. I took my self-taught PR skills with the thorough cultural training of the YMCA organization to gain exposure and momentum behind the movement. I became acquainted with reporters and journalists from The Brentwood Press, ABC News, Contra Costa Times, and The San Jose Mercury News to pitch my stories for coverage to garner support from the community.

When they did not think that my stories were newsworthy, I would go out and create a story that the would cover, all in an effort to gain support from the community, local politicians and business owners. We eventually got the support, raised over $1million, opened a new facility and built a brand partnership with the Oakland A’s and Kaiser based on the programming that we implemented. I learned a lot and accomplished a lot in the near four years that I was with them.

In that time, based on my work product, I became the first African American elected to the Oakley Chamber of Commerce where I chaired a successful Almond Festival. In 2007, I was appointed to the Contra Costa County Youth Council by Supervisor Federal Glover, co-authored a nutrition/wellness manual for the county and was elected to the Antioch Arts Council, all while being the Associate Executive Director of the YMCA. I also coached the Adams Jr. High School and Freedom High School Cheerleading squad.

Once my family and I moved to Southern California, I started working for Southland Publishing where I indulged in the art of advertising. I started Real Estate Agent Magazine and went on to handle public relations efforts for small businesses, personalities, and entrepreneurs, understanding that advertising and marketing are not enough. Storytelling is how you get people to know, like, trust, and buy from you. I even penned my own memoir to get people to know and trust me more. Practice what you preach and be transparent.

I started Sand & Shores Communications for the sole purpose of helping people and businesses tell their stories for whatever their goals are at the time. Some want to tell their story simply for their legacy. Some want to use their story for lead generation. Others hope to build loyalty with the customers and followers that they already have. We help figure out their brand value, brand proposition, target market and angle of the story for the different outlets, reporters, and bloggers.

My works in Redondo Beach, California got me awarded Ambassador of the year for the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce, the first African American woman elected to the Board of Directors for the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce, the first Black president elected as the North Redondo Beach Business Association (NRBBA), appointed to the City of Redondo Beach GPAC (General Plan Advisory Committee), and a member of the Redondo Beach Community Police Board where I chaired the first MLK Day Celebration in the city that has 3% African American population.

Has it been a smooth road?
I am a gun violence survivor. I spent time in a Federal Witness Protection Program, a shelter with my mother, a prison for women with children with my mother, and I have been sexually assaulted twice, once as a teenager and again as a young adult in college. I walked across the stage a Cal State University, Northridge in June 1999 and my mother died July 2, 1999. My then-fiance and I moved to the Bay Area and took custody of my two little sisters to raise them in a stable home. This derailed my career path. I was headed to law school and decided to take a different path because I knew that the kind of time and attention needed to raise the girls and my own family would take more of me than I would be able to give if I did what I had originally intended to do.

I realized that no matter what my title is, what career I pursued, I have a level of greatness and leadership that permeates through my life. Once I took inventory of all of my accolades and positions, one thing that resonated was that I am always being chosen for positions of leadership and opportunities based on the energy and attitude that I project and display. So my advice to young women is to always let your best self show. Don’t constrain it. So, suppress it. Show it. Expose it. Let the world see what you are truly made of. We are taught to not be boastful but the truth is, you have to be your own best cheerleader. Don’t be afraid to project your true self. Your authentic self will leave an impression on those that can put you in positions to shine.

We’d love to hear more about Sand & Shores Communications.
I am a supreme storyteller. I love a good story and understanding the art of public relations can give you a clear picture of how it is the perfect fit for me and Sand & Shores. Bold Branding is our signature task. We figure out what makes you stand out as a professional, a brand, or a business and find creative ways to tell the story. The Sand & Shores team will hone in on your offerings and who they are best suited for to identify your target market.

Sand & Shores are known for getting small businesses and entrepreneurs the attention that they need, build mutually beneficial partnerships, and facilitate collaborations. Your ability to grow your reach will help you grow your business.

So much of the media coverage is focused on the challenges facing women today, but what about the opportunities? Do you feel there are any opportunities that women are particularly well positioned for?
The truth is, there is really no position that women are NOT positioned for based on the fact that women are as capable and sometimes more so than men, with no regard for the industry. Currently, you see women coaches and referees on the field and court in men’s sports. Women serving in the military get trained to work on Strykers, fight alongside of men, and are a part of the strategic battle teams. Once they get out of the military, they take those skills into the civilian world and a career of their choice.

Women have always been positioned as the physically weaker sex and even that is not always true. I am stronger than many men in the UFC gym where I workout.

Women are positioned for the opportunities that they want, not for the one that somebody wants for them. It’s funny when people say that women are the more emotional sex. I have come to embrace it. That actually works to our benefit when channeled correctly. The passion, tenacity, and diligence of a woman are what usually drives us to obtain the position, achieve, and many times exceed expectations.


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Credits by Tonya McKenzie

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