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STUCK...but Loving It!


At the age of 19, Antonette McIlwain was a desperate single mother with four children.Not seeing any way out, she felt STUCK. 

One of the most defining moments in her life came the day she had no food at all for her children. Toni walked down the block to the neighborhood market to beg for food. The store was closed. It was Thanksgiving Day. She walked down the alley to the dumpster in back of the store hoping to find some food for her children. As she began to look inside for food, a big rat jumped out with food in its’ mouth! Walking away she thought, “That rat is smarter than I am. He retrieved the food before I could get it!”

That was the day Toni dropped to her knees and began to cry out to God. “Please help me. I need to change my life.” And, indeed, she did.

Among, many other awards and recognitions, in 1990, Toni received the 107th “Point of Light Award” from former President George H. W. Bush, Sr. for her part in developing a total community on the eastside of Detroit where many single mothers were struggling. Like her, they were also stuck. With Toni’s help, they found a way out.

Today, she has been married to Rev. Roger McIlwain for 47 years. Their children are successful and no longer living in poverty. Toni is still stuck, but now she is stuck fulfilling her God-given mission and loving it.

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As a resident and community activist in the Ravendale neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, Toni MclIwain earned a reputation as a passionate, fearless and tireless advocate to improve conditions in Ravendale and address the needs of the families who lived there.

She organized door to door, one household at a time. She would not brook apathy or pessimism. Her energy and determination were infectious, and she built an effective grass-roots movement that garnered the attention of officials, the media, and other change agents across the city.

Toni’s ascent to this role is a remarkable story of struggle and perseverance. She overcame abuse and adversity that could have crippled her spirit and will. Not only did she overcome, but she made it her life's work to help others understand that change is possible, no matter how desperate things seem to be.

I first met Toni in 1990. I was an investigative news producer for the CBS station in town. I was working on a series about how the crack epidemic was destroying neighborhoods. That's when I learned about Toni's organizing work in Ravendale. Two years later, I started working on a documentary for Public Television about Ravendale. Toni was featured prominently. When I learned about her personal journey, I was both moved and stunned. Because of Toni's easy smile and laughter, and her enthusiasm and self-assuredness, I would not have guessed the profound suffering she had endured. Such suffering can be corrosive, but it never touched Toni’s mettle and heart.

I encourage you to read Toni's story, in her own words. You, too, will be moved, stunned, and inspired.

Steve Palackdharry 
Filmmaker, Author and Community Activist

I have been involved with Toni for over 30 years. She has never forgotten the people of the community. She continues to give hope wherever she goes. Reading her book gave me more hope!

Connie Leftwich
Ravendale Resident

After meeting Toni, I knew that she had love for all people. Toni always believes, as she puts it, that “Everyone has a right to have their dignity affirmed.” Her story needs to be told to everyone who feels they can’t make it. May she continue to bless others.

Jim Comer, CEO
Comer Holdings, Inc.

Toni has worked with me for over 20 years. After reading her book, I am very impressed with her pleasant and positive attitude. This is a book everyone can learn from.

Howard Weaver, President
ATS Educational Services, Inc.

Stuck … but Loving It! is an amazing testament to a strong-willed, faith-driven women who did not let the many early obstacles and challenges deter her from fulfilling her purpose. Her story is an inspirational testament about overcoming, but more importantly making a commitment to uplift others and to serve her community. Toni McIlwain is a true grassroots trailblazer who has never forgotten that true service is about the people. Read her book and prepare to be inspired.”

Luther Keith, Executive Director

If you could only read one book this year, Stuck … but Loving It! by Toni Mcllwain should be it. A book of great inspiration, courage, and hope, Toni beautifully conveys that we don’t always get to choose what happens in this life, but through God’s grace we can triumph over adversity.

This inspirational, compassionate, and spiritual harvest of redemptive insights will both energize and challenge the reader and illustrates Toni’s gift as a powerful witness who used her experience in the service of helping hundreds on the road to recovery.

Robert Woodson
The Woodson Center
Washington, D.C.

Have you ever been stuck? Not just stuck on a math problem and all of a sudden the answer came to you. Not just stuck in rush hour traffic that would soon clear up. Not just having your car get temporarily stuck in a rut but you knew you could call a tow truck and get out. Not just stuck in a dead end job and you knew you could quit and find a better job. No. Have you ever felt like your entire life was stuck? You couldn’t go backwards and you didn’t know how to move forward.

At the age of 19, author Antonette McIlwain found herself on the streets of Detroit with four children under the age of five. No husband. No welfare check. No job. Nowhere to go. No hope for the future.

After being forced to search the dumpster for food for her children, McIlwain knew she needed a new start in life. She cried out to God for help. Not only did God help her, but he showed her how to help others such as herself. As a result of her community outreach, she has received numerous awards for her work, including a Thousand Points of Light Award from the president of the United States in 1990.

For many years, I worked side-by-side with Toni in the Ravendale Community on the eastside of Detroit. God has truly blessed the work of her hands. I always compare her to the Samaritan Woman in the Bible whose clarion call was, “Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did. Is not this the Christ?” (John 4:29).

I love it when I hear her tell people, “Falling in the water won’t kill you. It’s staying in that will."

Dr. Mary Edwards, President
Leaves of Gold Consulting, LLC
Book, Life and Legacy Coach