Toyin Adon-Abel Jr. (ABJ ’05) knew from a young age he wanted to work in marketing, but equally important to him was directing campaigns as a way to understand people and tell their stories.
With these goals in mind, he pursued a degree in journalism with a minor in sociology.
“I thought by majoring in journalism, I would be a more well-rounded communicator and that it was a better route for my skill set,” Adon-Abel said. “I wanted my marketing to be based in truth and community and understanding people. I thought if I really, really understood people and their motivations and how their environments dictate what they buy and how they interact with brands, I would be a better marketer.”
Today, Adon-Abel is the vice president of marketing operations for Greenwood, an online financial services company that caters specifically to Black and Latino customers around the country. In the evenings, he works on providing marketing services to clients through his marketing agency, Meddling Minds, which he founded in 2020.
Adon-Abel started Meddling Minds as a way to lead what he terms conscious marketing — marketing that has a positive impact on communities.
“My grandmother always told me I was here for a greater purpose,” Adon-Abel explains. “She said because we spend so much of our lives working, that work needs to be impactful.”
Greenwood was a client of Meddling Minds, so it was a natural transition to oversee marketing operations for the bank.
Adon-Abel believes in the mission of Greenwood, which provides banking services to underserved communities. He explains that the recirculation of money in Black neighborhoods is negligible because there are few Black-owned businesses, even in Atlanta, a city that is known for welcoming Black people. Adon-Abel said that Black spending power is at an all-time high, but Black wealth is declining and minority populations are continuously exposed to unfair financial practices.
“That’s where I wanted to spend my time — helping companies that I know are going to help other people,” said Adon-Abel of Greenwood and their service of providing grants to Black-owned businesses and support of HBCUs.
Black History Month and Illumination
Adon-Abel admits he is frustrated by Black History Month because he feels it is not a genuine effort, but instead a “pacifier.” He cites businesses and organizations that get behind the effort for a short time, but don’t do much the rest of the year. He noted that Black History Month is during the shortest month of the year and he doesn’t feel a lot of pride.
Adon-Abel said: “I think it’s just window-dressing because the country is not interested in admitting its history, learning from it and fixing the issues that still plague Black people in America.”
He believes, however, that the past few years with the racial reckoning have been positive and illuminating.
“I really believe that the great pause when everyone was at home helped white people understand these things from a Black person’s perspective,” he continued. “Awareness has been raised. I also think the last couple of years have illuminated the way different groups are treated.”
He cites the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol as an example.
Adon-Abel continued: “I guarantee you that most Black people who were watching were saying ‘if they looked like us, this would have been a very different outcome.’ It illuminated the clear difference between how Black and white people are treated.”
Adon-Abel remains positive and thinks that Black students graduating today need to focus on being valued. He notes this especially when he hears professionals advise young people not to leave their first job too soon because it might look bad on their resume.
“I get nervous that people compromise themselves because they think they need to stay longer,” he said. “It’s important for people to know their worth, their value, and understand they have power and control over their careers and take more risks.”
Adon-Abel said when he started at UGA in 2001, less than 1% of campus were Black men and a majority of those students were athletes. Already in a minority group, Adon-Abel was even more in the minority since he was raised in London and spoke with a British accent. He connected with several Black students who he met at orientation and they suggested he get involved with the Visitor’s Center.
Adon-Abel values the time he spent at UGA, especially working with Eric Johnson (ABJ ’86), director of the UGA Visitor’s Center.
“The person who had the biggest impact on my time at UGA was Eric Johnson,” Adon-Abel said. “Eric is really big on authenticity and tapping into that. When I was struggling with not fitting in, he allowed me to be myself.”
After all these years, Adon-Abel still credits Johnson with being a mentor on campus. “It’s not always the classes that affect you the most, but the extracurricular activities and the relationships with faculty and staff who really try to help you grow.”
Editor’s Note: Shortly after this interview, Adon-Abel reached out upon hearing about Valerie Boyd’s death. He shared the following:
“I’d like to give a special call-out and pay respect to Professor Valerie Boyd. I heard she passed away a couple of days ago. She and I kept in touch via email and Linkedin since my graduation. She was very proud of my career accomplishments and congratulated me on a recent newspaper article that mentioned my work with the Civic Walls Project. She had a long-standing wish to create murals in rural Mississippi. She and I had multiple meetings in 2020 so I could provide advice for her project. I reached out to her last summer to see if the mural had been completed. Below is a picture she shared with me in August 2021. Prof. Valerie had an impact on me during my education at UGA and afterwards. I’m glad that I was able to help her in some kind of way before she passed away. “