Updated: Jul 16, 2021
Let me take you on a journey to the coliseum right in the heart of the Brevoort Projects located in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. When the crack era swept through the inner cities like a pandemic, children were losing their parents to the streets. Many of them were lost and in need of guidance. Outsiders may have seen an impoverished urban community that wasn’t worth saving. But Thomas Diggs Jr. had a vision that would, later on, help to pave the way for three generations of children to succeed in life.
I had the honor of interviewing the woman behind the story. We talked about her most recent work, ‘For The Love of Diggs’ which has been selected to participate in 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Tonia Grady is a rose from the concrete, and an inspiration to girls and women-- proving that you can be anything that you want to be. Her energy and passion showed through the previous and current projects that she has produced like her first documentary, Man-Up: The Exploration of a Fatherless Nation, Beyond Da Rock (Docu-series), Gradygirl Looking For Love (Web Series), and New York Rat Pack (Podcast). As a young girl from the projects, Tonia always had ambition and big dreams. She landed an internship, then secured the job at the prestigious Terrie Williams Agency that literally changed the trajectory of her life. Tonia explained how working for one the most powerful women in public relations is where she learned the art of closing deals. “I was opened up to this world of not just PR, but how things really got done. I was in the room where the deals were happening” . Ms. Grady, CEO and Executive Producer of her own production company affectionately titled, Gradygirl Productions. She has over twenty-plus years of combined experience working in television, film, and media. She’s a seasoned television producer, respected director, and celebrated filmmaker. During her tenure as a producer at CNN she was recognized for her work during the tragic events of 9/11 by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Her most recent piece, 'For The Love o f Diggs’ originally was a small project allowing the Brevoort community an opportunity to thank Thomas Diggs, Jr. for his 35 plus years of work and dedicated service. The good news about giving Mr. Diggs his flowers while he could still smell them spread fast. So the project’s heartbeat proved to be too strong for a small package, and ultimately led her to create the documentary.
“Before the pandemic hit I was in my own pandemic. I was depressed and sinking into the couch binging on Netflix and ice cream. And God said, ‘GET UP’ and finish the project for Diggs.” And that’s exactly what she did. Putting in 18-hour days and sleepless nights, only her daughter Skylar was there to help and bare witness to the hard work and dedication that was required for this documentary. Ms. Grady sacrificed so much of herself just to make sure this project was completed. This was her hardest task to date. Without a production crew, very limited funds for the project, in the middle of a pandemic she found herself overwhelmed by the mounting pressure. Her faith in God gave her the strength and determination to push through. “I would just play what I had edited so I can hear it, while I was washing the dishes. I literally would be crying. If it can penetrate me from just hearing it, and not seeing it, that’s when I knew just how powerful it was. I heard the feelings from the people as they were telling their personal stories. You can hear the love. That is priceless.” - Tonia Grady aka Gradygirl As a writer, you really want to get the article right; Viewing the documentary gave me added insight. Listening to the testimonials, I could feel the emotions and the love the community had for Thomas Diggs, Jr. Ms. Grady’s direction of the film captured the love and beauty of Brevoort Projects. She told the story of a man who experienced the hurt and pain of not having a father; So in turn, he pursued a vision to provide love to the fatherless children in his community. Thomas Diggs, Jr. created outlets and activities for the youth to keep them engaged and off the streets. He is a mentor, brother, and father to thousands.
For The Love of Diggs’ premiered on July 11, 2021. For more information about producer/director Tonia Grady aka Gradygirl, or the film please visit www.gradygirl.com