MudPies CEO has a calling to work with kids
Story by Laurie D. Willis, Black Business Ink.
Working in the financial industry provided Dr. Tony L. Burton III (’89) foundational information about finances and networking, but it wasn’t rewarding.
So, more than 20 years ago, he stepped away from that profession to do what many believe is his life’s calling: working with at-risk youth to help them succeed.
“During that time, I realized one of the common denominators for the success of at-risk youth and their families is education,” Burton says. “My doctoral dissertation aimed to discover the relationship between early childhood education and linkage to school success. My finding was that early childhood education is a good predictor of school success. Young children with adequate early childhood exposure have better chances of succeeding in school and in life.”
Burton should know. He’s the chief executive of the Northwest Child Development Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which was founded in 1970. The non-profit operates four licensed child development facilities in Forsyth, Davie and Stokes counties–all under the name “MudPies.” The latest center, MudPies Coliseum, opened last fall on Pittsburg Avenue in Winston-Salem, a stone’s throw from the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Burton says MudPies is the only non-religious, non-profit childcare center in the community that provides a high-quality learning environment for children, as well as options for low-income families unable to afford premium routes for child-care needs. He says nearly half of MudPies’ students receive subsidized child-care, and the centers provide “an environment where entry-level educators can receive unmatched job training that effectively prepares them for lifelong careers in education.”
‘EVERY CHILD CAN SUCCEED’
Burton is well known throughout the Twin City and has hinted at having political aspirations. But right now, he admits, his focus is where it has been for years– on the children. He has always had a knack for interacting with children, according to his older brother, Ron Burton, a football coach at Michigan State University.
“Tony really believes that every child can succeed,” he says. “That success starts with a strong foundation that focuses on a holistic approach to develop mind, body and spirit. He really believes that for children living in Winston-Salem and surrounding areas. Growing up in New Bridge Baptist Church, we were always in Sunday school. Our mom always took us to church, which was a big part of our maturation. Tony became secretary of Sunday school for the youth. He was always a leader in bringing people together, and that’s where it all started.”
The will to serve others comes naturally to him, Ron adds.
“As I continue to work with children, I do my best to make decisions that will have a lasting impression on those I serve.”
“Tony has always been very interested in and committed to young people and their education,” he says. “He has the ability to see short-range and long-term goals and has the ability to bring people together that can help him achieve his goals. He really cares about improving the lives of children, and he believes in the power of people helping people.”
Burton, 50, grew up in Highland Springs, Virginia, five miles east of Richmond, but has lived in Winston-Salem most of his adult life. He credits his mother, the late Mary L. Burton, with teaching him to embrace helping others. He says she, Ron and retired school Principal Benjamin Henderson are his role models.
“I do my best to live a life that will have a positive impact on the lives of others,” he says. “When I started working with youth I was volunteering, tutoring three young men at my kitchen table. That volunteerism grew into a million-dollar program in three counties with five different components. As I continue to work with children, I do my best to make decisions that will have a lasting impression on those I serve.”
‘WILLINGNESS TO SERVE’
Rev. Nathan E. Scovens, pastor of Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, met Burton 10 years ago when Burton owned Omega Limo Service.
“The church gave me a scavenger hunt around the city as part of our anniversary celebration, and he was the one taking my family and me around,” Scovens says. “At the time, I was not his pastor, but our relationship grew out of that experience.”
During that initial encounter, Scovens says he sensed Burton was a good, community-oriented young man who was very passionate about life and willing to serve.
“My impressions of him have grown,” Scovens says. “I have a greater respect for his commitment to working with families, children and the underprivileged and for his willingness to serve. He’s very driven. I think he’s been so successful because he’s chosen to put God first and also because he loves what he does.”
Mercedes L. Miller, of Winston-Salem, a professional speaker and executive consultant, has known Burton for more than two decades.
“Dr. Burton is consistent,” she says. “If there’s anything I’ve known about him over the past twenty-four years, it’s that he has a powerful commitment to children and a devout presence in public-service organizations. Service and volunteerism have been and are the cornerstone of his existence.”
Through the years, Burton has had to help himself as well. In 1989 he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UT Martin. After spending three years at Winston-Salem State University, where he studied middle-grades education and earned a North Carolina teaching license in math, he attained a master’s degree in education administration from Columbus University in Mississippi. His Ph.D. in education administration is also from Columbus University.
Besides earning degrees, Burton helped himself by going from more than 650 pounds to a healthy 240 pounds.
“I have a burning desire to achieve and excel, and I have a support system of people who encourage me when I’m on top of the world and when I’m climbing out of the valley.”
“I encountered many personal, professional and physical obstacles, but in the process I had to transform my inner man in order to see the outward results that I desired,” he says.
Burton and Miller are working on a book about his journey to success, which includes his 400-pound weight loss. He believes the book will help others achieve.
“Much of my success is twofold,” he says. “I have a burning desire to achieve and excel, and I have a support system of people who encourage me when I’m on top of the world and when I’m climbing out of the valley. I had a mother who always allowed me to chase after my dreams and do things other children my age didn’t even consider. She also allowed me the opportunity to be exactly who I was with unconditional love and support.
“As I moved into adulthood, I was fortunate to attract people into my life who provided the same type of support,” he continues. “Now, I must say part of that also has to do with the fact that I do the same for others.… I just believe that as long as I’m using my gifts and talents to help others, the same support and assistance will be provided for me to be successful. It has proven true for me for decades.”
FUTURE IN POLITICS?
Burton’s support system includes his wife, Brittani M. Williams-Burton, and his children, DeQuincy, Darren, Ariyanna, Lewis IV and Levi. Burton, who says he works an average of 50 hours a week, says listening to music and cooking are his hobbies. Yet he enjoys nothing more than spending time with friends and family, including older brother Ron and younger brother Darryl, who lives in Richmond. Burton’s sister, Cheryl, and his parents are deceased.
Ron Burton and Scovens say they know Burton has political aspirations and wouldn’t be surprised if he one day gets elected.
“Everyone is not fit for public service, and I think before you can hold public office you have to be a public servant, and he’s done that,” Scovens says. Ron Burton says he wouldn’t put it past his brother to make a gubernatorial bid someday.
And just what does Tony Burton say about entering the world of politics? After all, he was among a very short list of candidates from which the Forsyth County Democratic Party selected a replacement for Forsyth County Commissioner Walter Marshall, who unexpectedly died in office earlier this year.
“I strongly believe in service above self and have demonstrated that by the choices I’ve made and the work I’ve done,” he says. “As far as politics, if I’m ever elected to office my goals would be reducing poverty, bringing good-paying jobs to the area, growing our tax base, energizing our county and continuing my commitment to education.”
Those goals, not surprisingly, would significantly improve the quality of life for underserved segments of the community – just as Burton seems committed to doing.