Tonya Lewis Lee is passionate – passionate about women’s health, about infant mortality, about literacy. In fact, she has several projects that address the various issues she is concerned with.
Lee did her turn as a corporate lawyer but even then she had a focus. She practiced law at the firm of Nixon, Hargrave, Devans & Doyle in Washington, D.C., where she worked on corporate and First Amendment issues.
Lee later ventured into writing and producing for television, and founded her own multi-media company, Madstone Company, Inc. Madstone’s first clients were Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite where, for many years, it produced Black History Month programming featuring various artists including Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Whoopi Goldberg and Queen Latifah.
In 2002, Lee co-authored her first children’s book Please Baby Please with her husband, director Spike Lee. She also produced the animated Just for Me interstitial Please Baby Please, and in 2005 continued the series with a follow-up book entitled Please Puppy Please. Her latest children’s book, Giant Steps, was released in 2011 by Simon & Schuster.
“I would love to write more children’s books,” says Lee. “I started with our first book, Please Baby Please, because as I searched for picture books for my children with characters that looked like them, I had a hard time finding them. There were a few, but not nearly enough. And I knew if I was having a hard time other parents of color were having the same issue. I found myself saying, “Someone should write a picture book that features a day in the life of a two-year old who happens to be Black.” And then I thought, why not me? The best part of writing those books is knowing that there are children of all races who identify with “Baby” and enjoy the rhythm of the text.”
Her work as the executive producer of the 2004 documentary film, I Sit Where I Want: The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education for Noggin/The N received Beacon and Parent’s Choice Awards, and that same year Lee released her first novel, the national bestseller, Gotham Diaries. She also served as the executive producer for “Miracle’s Boys,” a television mini-series for Noggin/The N.
Lee is also the national spokesperson for the A Healthy Baby Begins With You infant mortality awareness campaign. The campaign and its corresponding Preconception Peer Educator program come out of the Office of Minority Health, a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reached out to me five years ago and asked me if I wanted to join them as a spokesperson for their infant mortality awareness campaign, A Healthy Baby Begins with You. At the time, I was not aware of the alarmingly high U.S. infant mortality rates,” explains Lee. “Once I did my research and learned about the issues, I had to get involved. The U.S. is ranked 40th in the world of industrialized nations. And African-American babies die at a higher rate than white babies in this country. But if you take the African-American population out of the equation, the U.S. would still rank 23 in the world, so as a society overall, we’re just doing very well. Further, infant mortality is the marker of the health of a community in general. If our babies are not healthy then it means that we are not healthy. I wanted to be involved so I could help spread awareness, and save lives and grief for families. I want to contribute to the movement of educating and empowering young people so that our future is in strong, healthy hands.” Additionally, Lee produced Crisis in the Crib: Saving Our Nation’s Babies, a documentary film about the campaign and the Preconception Peer Educators program.
Continuing with her push for a healthier America, in December 2009 Lee, through Madstone Company, Inc. launched HealthyYouNow.com a website community and online magazine dedicated to supporting women of color on their journey to achieve an optimal lifestyle of health and wellness.
“HealthyYouNow.com is an online women’s health community that provides resources and support for women who are seeking information on how to lead their healthiest lives. After meeting so many incredible health care providers, doctors, social workers and scientists through the Healthy Baby campaign who have shared their vast knowledge with me about the care and upkeep of our minds and bodies, I felt like I needed to share this information with a bigger audience,” says Lee. “Therefore, HealthyYouNow.com provides expert support along with the many voices and stories from real women as they navigate their personal health journeys. We will also provide healthy recipes and resources on mental and emotional wellness as well as information on financial health. We are about achieving a lifestyle that works towards optimal health without expending too much time and effort. HealthyYouNow.com is about shared learning as we all go about discovering how and why our health matters and what we as individuals can do for ourselves and ultimately our communities.”
It may seem like Lee has her hands full, but she is still coming up with new, exciting projects. “I am working on producing two young adult novels. We are also making a made-for-television movie of The Watsons Go To Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis and an independent feature of Monster by Walter Dean Myers,” says Lee. “I’m very excited about them both.”