When you call Columbia College-Elgin faculty member Toni Coleman Carter on her cell phone, it is no surprise that her ringback tone is the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. Her happiness, positivity and willingness to help others is apparent the moment you come in contact with her.
Carter is using those traits along with her own life experience as a former teenage mother and now successful businesswoman to help young mothers avoid the pitfalls and perils they can experience surrounding an unplanned pregnancy.
“I was a teen mother, so I feel that it’s my responsibility to help give back to people who may fall into the same situation I did when I was a teen,” Carter says. “I always start off every conversation when I am talking to people in the community about encouraging young people not to become parents before they finish their education, have landed their first job and have a few working years under their belt, because it’s really difficult when you are a teen parent.”
Despite the challenges of giving birth to her first child at the age of 15, Carter has successfully navigated her way through life thanks to the support of her grandmother Eliza Taylor and a group of cousins she calls the “Hughes Clan.” Along with nurturing her beautiful family, Carter has earned her bachelor and master’s degrees in human resources management at Roosevelt University while working as a human resources consultant at Motorola Solutions for the past 23 years. Carter started as an entry-level employee in the factory and now leads the inclusion and diversity work stream.
“There will be some people who have to learn the hard way like me. So if they happen to become a teen parent, they still need support, they still need people who will help them through situations, and that is our responsibility,” Carter said. “The Caring Hands Foundation works with young parents who are generally in high school, so we try to make sure they graduate from high school and go on to pursue some type of formal education.”
Carter has served as an instructor at the college for five years, focusing mainly on management and human resources classes. Her diverse insights resonate with her students and her leadership in the community also has not gone overlooked. Carter was recognized with the Leadership Excellence Award by the Illinois Diversity Council, a chapter of the National Diversity Council. In 2015, she received The Caring Hands Foundation award for humanitarianism and the Butterflies Organization SHERO award. Carter was also named Diversity Champion by Diversity MBA, a premier inclusion organization with 2.8 million subscribers.
“Diversity is important to me, but what is more important to me is inclusion,” Carter says. “Being from an under-represented group (Carter describes herself as “both a Native American Indian and black person”), and having been put in so many situations where we are not a part of the majority group, it’s a struggle…. Inclusion is extremely important to me and, without inclusion, your diverse people will leave.”
She and her husband, Gary, have three children: Candace (30), John (29) and Taylor (5). Outside of spending time with her family of five and working in the community, Carter recently had her first in a series of books and workbooks published, entitled When Trouble Finds You. She would also like to pursue teaching at a college full time, but right now Columbia College is the beneficiary of her discretionary energy and passion for helping others in the classroom.
“When I’m in class, I’m energized, I’m energetic and I’m engaging our students, and let me tell you, when I leave, I am totally exhausted and need a whole day to recuperate,” Carter says with a laugh.