General News
Student Experience

Against the odds: How a first-gen policy student became a voice for child welfare

Tony Parsons (MPM’24), a former foster youth, never imagined he would have 24 siblings nor that his career trajectory would lead him to public service.

Tony Parsons (MPM’24), a Master of Policy Management student in Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, spent much of his childhood in foster care in Redford, Michigan, a small town outside of Detroit. At age 3, he was adopted into a family that would eventually have 24 children, 22 of them adopted. 

Throughout his young adult life, Parsons struggled with his identity as a Black man, mental health and the loss of his adoptive parents, but he refused to let adversity get in the way of his dreams. 

“Since the age of 14, my outlook has been, ‘tell me I can’t, and I’ll show you 10 ways that I can,’” he said. “I may not think I can do something now, but that doesn’t mean I never will.”

Parsons became the first person in his family to attend and graduate from college, “trailblazing the way” for his younger siblings, and later drew on his experiences in and around the foster care system to become a passionate advocate for underrepresented and underserved populations.

Tony Parsons (MPM’24) and colleagues from Youth Villages hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill to advocate for the extension of foster care and additional support for youth aging out of the system.

Becoming a champion for child welfare policy

Before graduate school, Parsons spent three years working as the federal policy specialist for Youth Villages, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting children, youth and families in the child welfare, mental and behavioral health and juvenile justice systems. His previous experience also includes volunteering for the Democratic National Committee and state-based advocacy organizations. Parsons’ long-term aspiration is a 2044 campaign for the White House — an ambitious goal he hasn’t lost sight of since he was 17 years old.

National Urban Fellows De’Zhon Grace (MPM’24) and Tony Parsons (MPM’24) and East Oakland residents attended a community investment event hosted by Oakland Thrives.

While working with Youth Villages, Parsons became a consultant with the Capacity Building Center for States, an initiative of the Children’s Bureau within the Administration for Children and Families. He directly applied his experience as a former foster youth to help implement informed, tailored plans for communities and organizations seeking to understand the role of race equity within the child welfare system, undertake child welfare prevention efforts and more meaningfully engage with children, youth and families involved in the child welfare system.

National Urban Fellows, including Tony Parsons (MPM’24), gather on the front porch of Old North.

Through the National Urban Fellows Program (NUF) at the McCourt School, Parsons is a policy management fellow at Oakland Thrives, a civic and social organization aiming to improve health and equity outcomes in Oakland, California. He’s also tapping into NUF’s “massive network” in California, allowing him to connect with more people doing meaningful work in his community and across the state.

“The opportunities NUF has given me are invaluable. As Fellows, we’re not only receiving a high-quality education, but we’re also applying the lessons we learn in the classroom in real life,” he said. “I have met many community leaders in California who are doing the work that we talk about.”

Parsons, who is midway through his second five-year plan, intends to pursue a law degree or a Ph.D. after leaving the Hilltop.

“In the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting back into the workforce and making the changes I want to see in the world,” he said, adding that Michigan may be calling him home.

This story is a part of our Student Spotlight series , in which the McCourt School showcases the inspiring stories of emerging policy leaders who are making an impact in their academic pursuits, extracurricular activities and communities.
McCourt School News
National Urban Fellows
Student Spotlight