Tondea King has always had the gift of gab. But it wasn't until college that she realized how truly gifted she was and how far her mind, creativity, and voice could take her. As her gifts continue to take shape, she is telling a story that will inspire other gifted ones.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) I grew up in the house of my great-grandmother Pearline Biddings. My mom and I lived with her. My great-grandmother worked in the cafeteria at South Elementary, so everyone knew her. That made growing up a little different for me because I had to be very mindful of everything I did or people would go back and tell.
I grew up in the church. I went to Clegg’s Chapel Community Missionary Baptist Church. Our church family is very close so growing up there and being around my church friends was probably the best part of my youth. We always had something going on as far as events. Our annual Youth Explosion event was probably the best time of the year for me. So growing up in the church was the biggest part of my childhood outside of going to school.
I went to Southern Middle School and then Person High School. And those experiences were fun—being on the school bus with some of my friends from the neighborhood and getting to know a lot of kids from different backgrounds and different parts of the community. I have some good memories and some not-so-good memories, but overall it was fun.
The one thing I can say about being at Person High School, though, is that college was not emphasized as much at that time. It was mentioned but there wasn’t a major push and there wasn’t really a culture of promoting higher education. My knowledge of higher education came from church. Going to college was definitely emphasized at my church and a lot of people from church went to Historically Black Colleges and Universities: North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, Shaw, and so on. But at school, college wasn’t talked about unless you played a sport or you were in advanced placement courses. I wasn’t an athlete and I wasn’t an AP student. So teachers weren’t really pushing me toward that goal. It wasn’t until senior year that teachers started talking about making sure our grades were at a college standard, but that really should have started around sophomore year. And I think that kind of hurt a lot of people from leaving home and exploring their future. Staying in Roxboro and building your life there is great. But in going to college and being around other people from different areas of the country, I found life to be so much more than what I was exposed to growing up. So I think a lot of people could have went off to college and had those interactions and relationships if they had been given better opportunities during our high school days.
But for me, I knew I was going to school because my mama said so. Going through the process of picking a school I applied to several places. Got accepted to some of them. I even got a scholarship offer to one school that I knew I didn’t want to go to. And then I applied to NCCU. I got accepted and I chose to go there without ever really touring the campus. And even though that’s not the best way to make such an important decision, it was the best decision I ever made.
Q) What has your educational path been like?
A) Several people from Person went to NCCU with me in the fall of 2007: Dwayne Johnson, Gabby Harris, and Nealie Whitt to name a few. My freshman year I didn’t participate in a lot of clubs and activities. I was part of a modeling troupe, but besides that I just got to know a lot of people and formed a lot of friendships. My sophomore year I was a campus tour guide, I was a part of student activities, I was part of the Screaming Eagles pep group for games, I did work study in the admissions office and the music department, and I participated in student government. That year Dwayne was our sophomore class president and at the end of that year he decided to run for SGA president for the following year, which normally rising seniors ran for SGA president. But Dwayne won and he was the SGA president our junior year, and so he asked me to be his special assistant in charge of planning Homecoming. That was a tall task. Plus, that year our Homecoming was at the same time as A&T’s, so there was a lot of competition. But with me having been involved in student activities, I knew the planning required for all the Homecoming activities. And, by that time, I had formed some connections that could help me pull it off. I had gotten to know Grammy award-winning producer 9th Wonder, who, at the time, was an Artist-In-Residence at NCCU and was teaching in the music department. He and I still chat on a regular basis to this day. But he was one of the people I reached out to for help with my Homecoming plans. One of the ideas that he and I came up with was for the Homecoming concert to be headlined by a then-up-and-coming rapper named Rick Ross. Because he was new artist, he wasn’t going to be that expensive. And our idea was for him to perform at the DPAC with a live band. But Central’s administration didn’t see our vision, and unfortunately, we did not get Rick Ross, which was a huge mistake because soon after that, his career took off. Since then I think they’ve avoided mistakes like that for the most part and have brought in popular artists while they were still up and coming. But even with that plan being altered, we were still able to put on a great Homecoming and to this day it was one of my biggest accomplishments because it required so much effort and coordination. It really helped me to realize some of my gifts, which I have built my professional career upon.
Originally, I was a social work major, but after being around 9th Wonder, I decided to change my major to mass communications with the goal of one day working in entertainment. So in 2011 I graduated with a Degree in Mass Communications. After working for a few years, I went back to school at Lynn University in 2014 and earned two Master’s Degrees: Sports and Athletic Administration, and Communication and Media.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) While I was in college, I had a paid internship with a food services company doing their marketing, and that became my niche. So when I graduated I got a job with that company which was based in Winston-Salem. I did a lot of marketing and a lot of events and it raised my profile. I then began working in marketing at Methodist University and then also UNC Pembroke simultaneously. I enjoyed my work at Methodist and I wish it could have gone on longer but the contract ended between the University and the company I worked for, so I came back to Durham and took a similar position at NCCU. I was able to do a lot of good work there and I also learned to work under some difficult conditions because our client at the time was a gentleman who was very difficult to work with. Also during that time, though, I was able to get into sports marketing with Central’s athletic department, which is the lane that I’ve always had the most interest in. This is what spurred me to get my master’s degrees. So I was working full time, I was in grad school, and I was developing and cultivating relationships with donors as part of our fund raising activities for the athletic department.
At the same time I was looking for internships as part of my course work for grad school. I applied for an internship with the Charlotte Hornets Foundation and I got it. But that internship was very extensive and I had to quit my job. So I took a chance, but it turned out to be a great decision. The internship was one of the best experiences I’ve had and I was really able to develop my fundraising skills. Also I was able to meet a lot of well known people within sports: Patrick Ewing, who was an assistant coach in Charlotte at the time, sportscaster Jay Bilas, Rich Cho, who was a team executive at the time, and Jasmine and James Jordan, who are Michael Jordan’s daughter and brother respectively, and who work for the Hornets.
Working there, I had two superiors who were both Black women, which was such an amazing experience. There are not a lot of Black women in high executive positions in professional sports. These two women’s jobs consisted of working alongside Michael Jordan, who is the most famous sports figure in the world and the only Black team owner. So I was really in awe of them. While I was there I was really successful at helping raise funds. I was given the nickname Mrs. Fundraiser and I’ve been told that interns who have come behind me have not really been able to match my numbers. So that makes me very proud.
At the end of the internship, there was no position open or I would have stayed. But I came home and worked part time in my former position. I was still in school so I took on another internship with the marketing department within N.C. State’s athletic department. While I was there I worked with just about every sport and I really saw the difference between the resources that the athletics departments of predominantly white institutions have versus that of an HBCU. At Central the pressure was staying within the budget. At N.C. State the budget was not the main issue but there was still a lot of pressure stemming from other issues. So I am grateful for the experiences of working within both environments because when I deal with people from the athletics world, I can speak from both perspectives. Right now I’m in Raleigh working for Pizza Hut’s corporate offices, but even in that I’m still maintaining my footing in the sports world. I’ve also just started a podcast, “Circling Back On This,” and I’ve interviewed such individuals as Angela Rye, Randolph Childress, and Jamal Crawford.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) I’ve had this conversation with a lot of other women. As a woman, specifically a Black woman, I can say that it’s always been more difficult for our voices to be heard. And then if I were to add in the fact that I’m a woman who is has interests in the business of sports, it is certainly difficult. And that’s why we have to push for women who are doing great things to be recognized. The more light that we shine, the more light there is for another woman to step into and be seen. In 2020 I joined an organization called WEEN (Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network). A couple of the founders are from North Carolina, including Valeisha Butterfield Jones, who is the daughter of Congressman G.K. Butterfield. One of the things I’ve learned from being in that organization is that representation matters. And they have the saying “Lift as you climb, excellence is the baseline.” That organization is always pushing women to be in the C-Suite, to sit on boards, to lead projects. So I learned that women have the power to do so much more and we need to push and support each other so that we can all have our faces seen. We always see the same people in positions: white men and sometimes white women. And whether they’ve earned the position or not, they get there because of relationships. But for me it’s important for Black women to be seen. Which means we have to build relationships with each other and bring each other into visibility.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) There are a lot of people from Person County who are leading successful lives or pursuing great careers. Some of those people are able to go back and make an impact in Roxboro. A lot of them aren’t. I think Dwayne is a perfect example of going back and giving back. And we need more of that. But I feel that in order to have more of that, Person County has to allow different voices to be heard. The county is really small, but only a portion of the views and perspectives of the community are heard and valued. People are not going to bring their skills and talents back to Person County if they don’t think they will be valued. So Person County needs to open itself up to new ideas and include everyone’s voices if it wants to bring back its sons and daughters who are using their gifts in other communities that are more welcoming to them.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who look to you as motivation?
A) Don't let anyone deter you from what you want to do in life. Stay focused. Reach out and ask for help if you need it. I’m the kind of person who tries to do things on her own, so I’m still learning this, but ask for help when you need it. Also, be willing to get out of your comfort zone sometimes. There’s a saying, “be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” which just means embrace discomfort and learn to work through it. Also don’t let your background or where you are from hold you back. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and just do it. And it's okay to fail. I've had to learn that it's okay to fail. Because then you learn how to succeed. So the risk is worth the reward.