Tough Love, Soft Heart
Tammy Solomon Gray is tough. She grew up in the tough shadows of the projects. She’s also had to deal with the tough challenges of physical disabilities since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 21. So it’s no wonder she practices tough love when counseling poor-performing students as an assistant principal at Cheviot Elementary in Cincinnati.
“I tell kids, ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses. I grew up in Winton Terrace and have three degrees, two cars and a house with two-and-a-half baths. I know that hard work is the only way to get out of the projects, and you can do it, too, if you use your head for something other than a hat rack,’ ” she says.
“I tell them, ‘We’re going up the escalator to crazy, because it’s crazy not to learn something at school.’ I explain to them what happens every step of the way and remind them that in-house detention is next. I tell them ‘When you’re ready to be a student and not a little terrorist,’ they usually come back.”
Behind the tough exterior, though, is a soft heart that has led her to voluntarily serve on the boards of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati and 4C for Children, both nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping at-risk children and handicapped adults.
“It was always something I wanted to do, but now that my son’s older I can do more,” she says. “There’s a time and a place for everything. It’s time for me to do important work for free. Some people on boards bring money and influence. I bring content and expertise.”
Gray, who earned a Master of Education from Xavier in 2000, credits her parents and grandparents for inspiring her to challenge herself, to improve her life circumstances and then do the same for others.
“These are game-changing organizations,” she says. “4C touches them at the beginning as youngsters and UCP touches them as they become adults. I get them coming to me as young students and leaving me as young adults—that’s the common thread.” And if any of the people start heading down the wrong path, she’ll let them know. “It’s like my mom used to say, ‘It’s not where you live, but how you live.’”