Sylvia Gray TCNAA Hall of Fame Class of 2018

Sylvia Gray is on a mission to help leaders build and grow high performing charter schools. It is this commitment that led her to establish SBGray Start-up Services, a mission driven company that works with school teams to impact student achievement through high quality operations at every level of the organization and underscore the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Trained as an accountant, she has a unique 30-year background in finance and operations management.

Sylvia has worked with the Memphis Business Academy (MBA) team since 2011. Sylvia came on board as the school’s first Chief Financial Officer. MBA is one of the largest African-American owned grass roots Charter School Management Organizations (CMO) in the state of Tennessee. During the 2018-19 school year, student enrollment is expected to exceed 1,500 across 6 schools with classes ranging from Pre-K – 12. Sylvia brought a financial strategy to MBA that has allowed the school system to tout phenomenal growth during her tenure. Along with enrollment sustainability, the CMO’s growth has been through new construction and purchase/acquisition. Sylvia now works as a Lead Financial Operations Consultant for MBA.

Prior to joining MBA, Sylvia worked in the area of international business as Financial Manager at the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID) in Jackson, Mississippi and as the Assistant Director of International Programs at Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) located near her hometown of Greenwood in the Mississippi Delta.

While at MVSU, Sylvia advised international students on cultural, personal, academic, and immigration matters. Her role allowed for extensive travel to cultivate the exchange program of the university with countries such as Brazil, Italy, South Africa, and Costa Rica.

Sylvia was the founder and co-leader of the Gateway Leadership Ambassadors Program for domestic and international university student partnerships and exchanges who participated in financial literacy/micro-finance training on the development and implementation of business plans focusing on meeting a community need. She also was the founder and co-leader of the Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures which focused on the study of critical languages (Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Russian). The Institute addressed language deficiencies in local elementary schools and allowed for international students of the university to teach foreign languages and cultures to area students. Sylvia’s commitment to the International Programs Department at MVSU not only refined her creativity, but it burgeoned her leadership skills. She became a leader for cultural delegations of students who traveled to countries such as France, China, Belize, and Morocco.

In her capacity as Financial Manager for MCID, Sylvia trained foreign project staff members in financial management for international projects which included: African Initiative Textbook and Learning Materials Program, Zambia; Enhancing and Sustaining the Roles of Women in Liberia’s Rebuilding Process; Higher Education and Development; Recovery, Retooling and Revitalizing the University of Mosul, Iraq.

Sylvia uses the word “community” to sum up her Tougaloo experience which continued her unique bond with her lifelong sister friends from the Mississippi Delta. Her experience also built relationships with a number of Special Tougalooians more than 30 years ago which exists to this day. A Life Member of the Tougaloo College National Alumni Association (TCNAA), Sylvia became a member of the Memphis Area Tougaloo Alumni Chapter in 2011 and was voted president in 2014. The chapter supports the 1869 Annual Fund and organized its very successful inaugural signature event, "The Bluff City Summer Soulstice Affair" in June 2018. Sylvia is a 2014 alumna of Leadership Memphis, an initiative that prepares and mobilizes leaders to work together for the good of the entire community. Sylvia is a member of Gamma Omicron Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Sylvia also serves as the accountant for the National Conference of Black Political Scientists representing U.S. Colleges.

A Memphis resident, Sylvia is mother to Brittany, a PhD scholar at Mississippi State University and Amaya, an honor freshman at Xavier University in New Orleans, LA. Sylvia is most proud to stand on the shoulders of her strong and dedicated mother, Lillie Pearl Burkhead, who will turn 88 years old this year.

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