In 2017, Tommy O. Abney was newly retired from more than 20 years with the New York Department of Education, where he served as a substance abuse prevention and intervention specialist. In that role, he created numerous programs for New York City youth and observed that inner-city public schools kids in Brooklyn, especially first-generation West Indian and African students, had little to no exposure to college campuses or to opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). With this in mind, Tommy began giving college tours as a hobby. “I wanted to help end the pipeline to prison and build the pipeline to college,” he explains.
A SCORE connection encouraged Tommy to turn his hobby into something bigger. Susan Shapiro from SCORE learned of Tommy’s efforts through a class they were taking and immediately said: “You must make this a business, but you need a partner.” Tommy did not have to look far to find the perfect fit to help him launch his business. His eldest son, Olu, a Morehouse College graduate and educator with Teach for America, loved his father’s idea. “It struck me: the reason I ended up at a great HBCU was because I went on a college tour,” he explains. He jumped at the opportunity to become his father’s partner and CEO for My College Tours.
Inspired, Tommy’s other son, Adebayo, wanted to help, too and serves as communications advisor for the family business. To grow My College Tours, the Abney family reached out to SCORE to take advantage of its resources and were introduced to SCORE mentors Harry Dannenberg, business operations, and Norman Sherman, a marketing expert. “They were very direct, honest and immensely helpful,” Olu says. “It was love at first sight!”
Now, My College Tours successfully offers affordable luxury bus tours to HBCUs, Ivy League institutions, public and private universities and colleges. “When it’s your passion, it’s not about speed – it’s a marathon,” explains Tommy. Olu adds, “This work is clearly changing the lives of the students we work with, and it’s changing our lives, too.”