This Mover & Shaker embodies family, perfect union(SAME), and the tremendous opportunity to serve as he has been served. Driven by a mission inspired by his parents to be an ambassador to overcome the greatest odds, he is empowering our local community in so many profound ways. We are honored and humbled to spotlight this Wilmington resident but as he beckons a “New Castle boy at Heart”, Tony Allen as a Top 10 North Delaware Mover & Shaker of 2015.
The chairman of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, founding president of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, Author of 30+ periodicals and publications including the National Urban League’s annual journal, State of Black America, and its syndicated column To Be Equal, Devolution and Intergovernmental Decision-Making (2001), editor of The Pace of Progress: A Comparative Analysis of Racial Disparities (2002), trustee at the University of Delaware and the Laffey-McHugh Foundation, Director emeritus with the Wilmington Hope Commission, Chairman emeritus of the National Urban Fellows, a Whitney M. Young awardee for Advancing Racial Equality, Delaware Citizen of the Year, Managing Director of the Global Marketing & Corporate Affairs Corporate Reputation group at Bank of America, and a Baruch College and University of Delaware graduate(deep breath) and above all husband, brother, friend and father, Tony Allen is one of the most influential and moving Movers & Shakers we’ve been honored to recognize. He tributes his success to his mother and step-father from whom he learned to overcome the greatest odds. “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Q&A with Tony
NDH: The person who nominated you gave us 3 reasons why you should be nominated as a Mover & Shaker. Now we would like to hear it from you. Tell us 3 reasons why you are a Mover & Shaker.
Tony: I can’t. I am not a Mover & Shaker. I am a son, husband, father, brother and friend who has been blessed with a tremendous opportunity to serve as I have been served. That is a responsibility I take very seriously and has always compelled me to be better and do more. No single accomplishment matters more to me than staying true to my personal mission.
NDH: For which achievements are you most proud?
NDH: Can you share how your involvement has impacted an individual or the North Delaware community?
Tony: I’d like to think that my most substantive community involvement was co-founding Public Allies Delaware with my dear friend, Dr. Suzanne Sysko-Clough 21 years ago. Public Allies is a national leadership development organization for young people between the ages of 18 to 30 who are interested in public service. That effort has led to more than 600 graduates who have, in total, volunteered more than 1 million hours of service to Delaware communities. What’s more heartening is the great many alumni who have continued to make worthwhile contributions in this community in private, public and nonprofit sectors. It is one of my great, great joys to see the organization still so vibrant after all these years. Learn more.
NDH: Movers & Shakers are visionaries. What projects are you working on for future achievement?
Tony: The most serious work I am doing currently is that of the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission, a body formed by the General Assembly and the Governor to tackle a problem rooted in inertia that has had significant consequences on low-income City of Wilmington children — largely black and brown — for more than 40 years.
“When a should becomes a must, human beings do extraordinary things.” Tony Allen
NDH: Have you faced any serious challenges along the way that you would like to share?
Tony: Challenges notwithstanding, my life is a blessing. Many people face greater challenges than my family and I will face in our lifetimes. We are grateful for that and seek to earn it by giving back to others every day.
NDH: What local organizations, events or clubs are you currently involved with? What attracted you to these organizations?
- University of Delaware Board of Trustees: As a trustee since 2008, I serve as chair of the committee for student life and athletics and the principle board liaison for diversity and inclusion at the university.
- Chairman Emeritus of National Urban Fellows: An alumnus of the program, I served as chairman of the 45-year-old organization born out of the civil rights movement meant to change the face of public sector professionals in cities throughout the U.S. The program has 1,500 alumni in key executive positions in the public, non-profit and private sectors throughout the country.
NDH: Who or what inspired you to get involved in those organizations? And, how did they inspire you?
Tony: My inspiration comes from my mother and stepfather, a pregnant teen who couldn’t finish high school in her hometown and a young man who never finished the 11th grade. I care about the things I do because I know the odds they overcame to give me a better life. “To whom much is given, much is required.”
NDH: Do you have a mentor?
Tony: My best friend and mentor is Jim Gilliam, Sr. He passed away in October 2015.
My feelings about him are captured in the following:
By Tony Allen, Ph.D.
Jim Gilliam was my best friend. A few weeks before he passed away, I went to visit him. As with many others throughout this community, it was a normal part of our routine for me to walk in, pull-up a chair, pour some scotch and water, and begin what started out as two buddies chopping it up.
It always turned into a beautiful portrait of the many colorful facets of this lovely man.
I always listened for the lesson in his words — and there were always lessons, but I could also see the color in the images and events he would describe, as if I were there myself:
facing the dull gray pain of some enormous but typical discrimination of the early years in his life;
smiling above the passionate reds in his first interaction with his Southern Belle and wife of 60 years, Louise;
the deep purples of a promise not kept by someone else whom he could quite literally challenge and change with a stern look;
the golden joy reflected from the recent triumph of his son, Jim, Jr., or daughter, Patti;
the pastels that boomed from his love of jazz, Morgan State and the Urban League;
the proud, self-effacing blacks and browns as he talked about hundreds of people from all walks of life for whom he opened first doors and insisted that they “get off their duffs” and “make a damn difference.”
On my canvas, Jim was multidimensional, both complex and parsimonious, and filled with authenticity.
If I had only known him casually, watching him from afar would have had a profound impact on my life, but I was blessed to be up close for the last 20 years of his life and for what I can only presume are the middle 20 of mine.
I feel very fortunate that Jim — among many — chose me, a man who has only seen my biological father five times and whose stepfather never finished the 11th grade. From 25 to 45, I could turn to Jim Gilliam, someone 50 years my senior, for anything — whether how to be a better public servant, a better professional or simply a better man.
That night when I left, I did my usual departing gestures: I gently caressed his silver hair, kissed him on his forehead and said, “I love you, Cap!” His normal reply was always, “Take care of yourself,” but this time without hesitation, he said simply, “SAME.”
Later, I sat in my car crying, thinking about my life without Cap. In these last three weeks, SAME has stayed with me. SAME is what his mother, Pocahontas, demanded he expect from others, and SAME is what Jim fought for for us all for 95 years.
—The SAME standards of fairness, the SAME prospects of opportunity, the SAME access to quality education and history and love and freedom.
Jim Gilliam wanted the SAME. And if he were here, I know he would want me to be clear.
SAME for Jim was not simple equality without recognizing the historic inequities that have defined a complex American history. SAME was not a commitment to being a color-blind society or ensuring that you had a few friends of different backgrounds.
SAME was about the quest toward “a more perfect union” — a point on which he became a decorated soldier in a segregated military; a point on which he led a national movement of housing rights for two decades; oversaw the successful operation of the most important Court for children and families in our state and built the New Castle County Office of Housing and Real Estate; at 78, founded the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League; and served as the go-to senior advisor for any public servant worth his or her salt in our community.
Regardless of what you looked like, where you came from, or who you loved, Jim Gilliam wanted the SAME things for you that you would want for yourself and those you loved the most.
When he said SAME to me, I knew it meant, “I love you too, Tony” AND it also meant the work is not done, the battle is not over, and to whom much is given, much is required and expected. The SAME, Cap, the SAME!
NDH: Is there anything else that North Delaware should know about YOU?
Tony: I love New Edition, Billy Joel and jelly beans.
NDH: What’s your favorite North Delaware event?
Tony: Crossfit CoreTen
NDH: What’s your go-to spot for dinner or night life?
NDH: How do you feel about being named as a Nominee of Movers & Shakers in North Delaware?
Tony: Humbled and honorably burdened by the responsibility
Stay Connected to Tony Allen
Thank You Tony Allen!
For all you do for our North Delaware communities and beyond. #lovelocal
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