Tonya Lewis-Taylor (299840)
Credit: Contributed

Tonya Lewis-Taylor has had a remarkable music career. From singing back-up for Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey to being a marketing executive at Roc-a-Fella Records, Lewis-Taylor knew she had a passion for the craft.

Even though she loved singing, she realized she had a higher purpose in helping kids continue their education. In her book “Be You, Not Her,” she wants to help other women find their passion as well.

“Whatever your gifts are or what comes naturally easy for you, they are to serve a bigger purpose,” Lewis-Taylor said. “Many of us never stop to ask what our purpose in life is or what problem we are meant to solve. We are all born with an assignment that we have to solve.”

Lewis-Taylor incorporates thought exercises into her book through which readers can examine their lives and where they hope to go in the future. These thought exercises include questions such as, “Do I like what I have become?” and “Am I happy at my current state?” With these questions, Lewis-Taylor expects readers to journal/write down their answers because it will make them one step closer to reaching their purpose.

Helping others comes second nature to Lewis-Taylor, who founded a youth development agency with her husband. I WILL GRADUATE is located in Brooklyn, but they serve students across the five boroughs. They help 15,000 students each week with the goal of helping powerful young people continue their education. Lewis-Taylor recently celebrated the 20 year anniversary of I WILL GRADUATE with an award from the City of New York.

Lewis-Taylor found her purpose when she was a marketing executive at Roc-a-Fella Records. Schools called to request celebrities to come and see their students. One time, she arranged for Kanye West to go to a school in Williamsburg. The principal spoke with her about how upset students would be when they found out they missed it because they did not come to school.

“I found that only 50% of kids attended the school on Friday,” said Lewis-Taylor. “This was a lightbulb moment for me. I set up a program to help his school, where we sent the kids incentives from the record label to convince them to attend.”

In addition to I WILL GRADUATE, she is the founder of the Entertainers for Education Alliance, where she connects with celebrities to inform students about the importance of education. After the positive response she received, multiple superintendents reached out to her in hopes that she would help other schools in the future.

When she is not helping students find their purpose, she is a gospel musician. Since her previous EPs reached the top 20 on the Billboard charts for Gospel, she hopes to release one next year. Lewis-Taylor wants readers to leave her book feeling that they have found not only their purpose but what makes them different from others.

“As individuals, we should own our uniqueness,” she said. “It is our gift and our power. It is okay to admire what others do, but when we start to compare ourselves, it is because we have not found what makes us unique.”