Changing Lives Through Philanthropy and Southern Values

It takes a special person to leave the comforts of the corporate world to transition to philanthropy and non profit, Tonyel Simon is one of those women. Her commitment to her southern values of helping her community and passion for building a better world for her nieces and nephews is commendable and a by product of her southern up bringing and HBCU education. We love everything about her southern story and are so honored to feature her today. Be inspired to serve your community this Sunday as you read this profile.


Tonyel Simon


Program Officer


Houston Endowment


Houston, Texas

Alma Mater

Howard University

Favorite thing about being southern:

I can use it as an excuse to never turn down soul food…

"Soul Food at Powell's Place" by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo - Flickr: Soul Food. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -
“Soul Food at Powell’s Place” by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo – Flickr: Soul Food. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons –

What is your personal life motto:

“Bloom where you are planted” and “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”

What is the most challenging professional obstacle you have had?

I began my career in investment banking.  The decision to transition to the non-profit world was a tough one and I needed to be okay with temporarily sacrificing financial gain to pursue a more fulfilling future.

Why did you choose a nonprofit route? What is your favorite thing about working at your organization?

I have 9 nieces and nephews between the ages of 3 months and 11 years old.  They are all growing up in the city of Houston and it is my mission to ensure they have access to the many opportunities available to them.  Through my role in philanthropy, it is my goal to support organizations that are working to ensure my nieces and nephews grow up in a vibrant and equitable city.

tonyel and niece

What gets you up every day?

Another opportunity to live in my purpose and positively impact the lives of our future

What is your favorite southern based movie or TV show? 

Being Mary Jane – The show has truly evolved since its pilot and offers an interesting experience of an African American woman as she navigates corporate America in the South.  Mara Brock Akil does an exceptional job of surfacing issues facing America through the lens of Mary Jane Paul.

What is your favorite southern dish?

Oxtails, rice and gravy, mother’s candied yams and sweet cornbread

Are there any southern brands you can’t live without?

Zatarain’s…I have not quite made it to the point where I’m cooking from scratch…

Who do you wish you could meet?

My 80 year-old self…Hindsight is 20/20 and I would love to hear what advice I would give myself.  It is my prayer that I continue to have steps that are ordered and maximize the many relationships I have had the honor of gaining already.

How does being raised and living in the south affect your day to day life?

I have been privileged to have candid conversations with my living grandparents and great-grandparents about their experiences with slavery, sharecropping, and segregation.  They have shared vivid memories of their experiences with me and it makes me much more conscious of the decisions I make, where I choose to live, work and patronize.  I am hypersensitive to the history of my family and choose to honor their legacy through my actions.

Why did you decide to go to Howard University?

Howard University is the Mecca of Black Education.  Why would I decide to to go anywhere else? 🙂

"Howard University Founders Library" by Josh from Washington, D.C., USA - Founders Library. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -
“Howard University Founders Library” by Josh from Washington, D.C., USA – Founders Library. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons –

What is your favorite city to do a weekend trip in the South and why?

Absolutely Miami! From the beach, to the people to the parties, Miami (South Beach) provides an opportunity to disconnect from the urgency of pursuing world peace and equity to indulge in the frivolity of leisure.

What advice would you give your younger college self?

Take your time and take advantage of the freedom college allows you to explore your passions.

Where can we connect with you?

Twitter: @tonyelsimon



Michiel Perry

Michiel is a Black Southern Belle living a lowcountry life. I love all things fashion, home decor and southern! When I am not running around doing fun stuff for Black Southern Belle, I live in antique stores and have a minor obsession with historic homes 🙂

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