Toni was born and raised in Houston, Texas. “I rep it very hard,” she said. She grew up in a blended family with three older half-siblings, and her parents went above and beyond to make them feel close-knit. But when Toni was in third grade, her mom had a stroke that shook their family foundation. “I took care of her a lot growing up. I grew up fast, learned to drive fast, took on a lot of responsibilities fast. I missed a lot of my childhood, but I wouldn’t take it back,” she said.
Shortly after graduating with a business degree from Sam Houston State University, Toni dropped her plans for law school and got married at age 19. The marriage brought her to Atlanta, the city she now calls home. Her marriage didn’t last, but her love for Atlanta did. “During my divorce I really regretted moving here, but honestly I don’t think I see myself living anywhere else,” she said.
It was in Atlanta that Toni began her ministry. “I was the youngest person on our youth ministry team. I got my start all because of a guy named Carlos Torres. He changed my life. He believed in me, mentored me, and taught me all the ropes of youth ministry. He allowed me to be young, creative, and to think outside the box. He allowed me to lead the youth ministry of our church and even go out and have tons of speaking opportunities. It was truly a God wink and gift to my life.”
There were challenges at the beginning. Millennials tend to get a bad rap when it comes to work ethic, but Toni was surrounded by a team of encouragers. “It was hard leading people older than me, but there was so much grace for it. I had a leader over me who believed in me and would always affirm my leadership. I had incredible volunteers who would follow and trust my leadership, and I worked very hard,” she said.
Eventually Toni got remarried, and her husband Sam became her biggest advocate, but it was her young daughter Dylan who taught her what became the message she shouts from the mountain tops––Broken Crayons Still Color. She often shares the story of buying Dylan a brand-new box of crayons, then walking into the living room to a parent’s nightmare. The new crayons were in pieces, scattered all over the floor, but Dylan was coloring happily with the remnants. The crayons didn’t need to be whole to do the job they were meant to do. “One of the things that just absolutely breaks my heart, is the thought that there are other women and teens out there who are in valleys thinking that their brokenness discounts them, when there are stories all throughout the Bible, showing these broken people God empowers to do life-changing, world-shaking things.”
There was a lot Toni was struggling with at that time––she didn’t even know if she could keep pursuing ministry––but she turned her pain into power. “I couldn’t just let that pain sit,” she said. “I had to tell other people about restoration and about God being able to use even me for more and greater.”
Part of Toni’s success is because she meets people where they are. She doesn’t change her speaking style to sound more “professional” or “polished.” She speaks to an audience like they’re her friend or neighbor. She uses the language millennials use––she’s expressive, fierce, and funny. You feel like she’s talking to you, not talking down to you, and that makes a difference when you’re teaching teenagers. “I spoke at an academy called Franklin Road in Franklin, Tennessee, close to Nashville. Afterward, every student wrote notes to me about their brokenness, and how Broken Crayons impacted them,” she said. “I wept. I was so inspired and shocked by their vulnerability toward me. It changed me in so many ways.”
In this digital age of anxiety, Toni is teaching people all over the country that you can be young and a boss, and you can be broken and worthy. She doesn’t want you to just face your demons, she wants you to quash the illusion of your unworthiness so you can live the most colorful life possible. “I would love to give this message of brokenness to as many people as possible,” she said. “I truly want people to know that while the world says we have to be perfect to be used, the truth is God will use us right in the middle of our mess.”
So what’s in Toni’s future? A new lesson is on the way (keep your ears open and eyes peeled, because she’s going to be dropping knowledge on preemptive love), but her biggest goal is one she’s already accomplishing––to influence a generation of people to be bold about their brokenness.