Real Talk With Dr. Antoria Gillon, Founder and CEO of From Ordinary to Extraordinary (FOTE)
Barbie was created in 1959 with one purpose – to teach little girls that they could do and be anything.
Now in 2023, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie is breaking box office records, showcasing to audiences the importance of learning to accept everything about yourself (flaws and all) to help make the world a better place. The film signifies a pivotal moment where we challenge outdated norms and embrace the power of female empowerment.
To celebrate this historical moment, we want to introduce you to three real-life “Barbies” changing the world with their incredible nonprofit organizations. While each has a different story and cause, they are all important examples to people everywhere that anyone can make a difference…
We continue our series with Dr. Antoria Gillon, CEO of From Ordinary to Extraordinary (FOTE) in Dallas, Texas. With a diverse educational background, she leads FOTE, uplifting survivors of domestic violence, trauma, and teen pregnancy. Guided by her own experiences, she imparts skills and hope, transforming lives through trades like hair braiding. Despite challenges as a black woman leader, her organization thrives, achieving awards, global recognition, and remarkable employment rates. Dr. Antoria’s vision extends nationwide with plans for more mobile units. Become a monthly sponsor and join us in amplifying her mission of empowerment and self-sufficiency.
Name: Dr. Antoria Gillon
Location: Dallas, TX
Title: Founder and CEO
Organization: From Ordinary To Extraordinary (FOTE)
What it is: From Ordinary to Extraordinary is an award-winning nonprofit organization recognized by the State of Texas, designed to empower women and men who have experienced domestic violence, childhood trauma, and teen pregnancy.
Educational Background: University of Phoenix, LSUA (Louisiana State University of Alexandria), TIUA School of Business, and Dr. Antoria is currently a student at Harvard University.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My day starts at 3:30 a.m. with a morning prayer. After prayer, I lay back down until 6:45 a.m., and then I help my children get ready for school. After my children are at school, I head off to work at From Ordinary to Extraordinary. I never know what the day will bring due to the different situations the clients we serve might be facing; therefore, it’s important for me to be centered within myself so that I won’t be moved by emotions.
What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
I get to teach the most meaningful lessons from my life and share beautiful and inspirational moments every day, all with the intention of bringing out the best in the people we serve.
What’s the backstory of your journey to founding From Ordinary to Extraordinary? What motivated you to establish a non-profit organization? As a young girl, I’ve always been caught in the crossfire of domestic violence. At the age of 5, my grandmother’s abuser tried to hit her with his car and hit me instead, resulting in severe injuries. My father, grandfather, and uncles were all aggressive towards women, and I witnessed these acts of aggression daily.
For example, everyone would be having a great time at family gatherings, and out of the blue, abuse would take place. My father ended up in prison for his abusive behavior. While there, my father taught me the mindset of the abuser and ways a woman can regain her own identity detached from the abuser.
My journey to establishing From Ordinary to Extraordinary started with volunteering at domestic violence shelters and giving extreme makeovers to help women rebuild their self-esteem. I have always loved doing hair and helping people feel good about themselves, so while volunteering, it dawned on me to teach abuse victims a skilled trade. This helps them out of a bad situation and provides a means for them to financially support themselves so they wouldn’t feel the need to return to the abusive relationship.
I initially focused on teaching them how to braid hair since I’ve been doing it myself since a young age to cope with an abusive childhood. Based on my own experience of earning over $80,000 in my first year of braiding, I knew it could be lucrative for the women, and it would help them become self-sufficient.
What is it like running a non-profit organization?
It’s rewarding and self-fulfilling to be a part of someone’s journey. It’s challenging and scary at times, but hope serves its purpose to show up every day to help women and men build a new life for themselves and their children.
What’s your biggest takeaway from your role in the organization?
I’m focused and outcome-driven, so the biggest takeaway is not expecting instant gratification but allowing others to grow in their own ability to reach.
Real talk—I saw that the organization includes two schools, two maternity homes, two resource centers, and even a mobile unit…did you always believe it would turn into such a comprehensive, successful organization?
Absolutely NOT! The organization was born from a nightmare of wanting to help victims that I once had no control, power, or resources to help. It’s because of my personal experience with abuse and success in helping others escape a similar situation that has led to the many branches of the program.
What unique challenges have you faced as a woman in a leadership position, and how have you overcome them?
One of the challenges that I’ve faced is being a black woman in the nonprofit space. I’m often overlooked as the head of the organization by outsiders. There have been times when someone entered my building and asked if I was the manager and requested to speak to the person in charge because they wanted to applaud their success. I’m unbothered by it because I like being behind the scenes while empowering my staff to function and operate as a team.
Can you discuss any significant milestones or achievements that your organization has reached?
While there have indeed been many significant milestones and achievements, such as being a Statewide Award winner and an internationally recognized organization, we have placed 96% of our students within employment, whether that is as an entrepreneur, working for a local partner, or being staffed within our US Department of Labor Apprenticeship program.
How has your degree helped you in your career?
Since my studies in the field of psychology, I’ve been able to help traumatized clients move past mental, emotional, and financial barriers and become stable and self-sufficient.
How would you describe your work/life balance?
Stable and within healthy boundaries.
Please share with us the best piece of career advice you’ve received.
Learning when you’ve transitioned from purpose to CEO. For so many years, I’ve worked in purpose because I knew it was my calling, but I had to learn when a shift has taken place, requiring me to operate on another level.
Do you have any big career plans on the horizon?
YES! I plan to operate in other states and to have mobile units that meet victims where they are to teach a skilled trade in 13 cities.
Where do you see your organization in five years?
Currently, we are operating within our 5-year plan. Since my model is to be five years ahead, I’m now working on what would be considered a 10-year plan.
Is there anything not covered during the interview you would like readers to know?
It is my desire to seek more like-minded people to support From Ordinary to Extraordinary’s mission by becoming a monthly sponsor to help victims of domestic violence become self-sufficient while establishing a solid foundation for themselves and their children. The support is needed to help us serve more victims than ever through housing, employment, and providing material assistance. If people are interested in becoming a monthly sponsor, they can donate $50 or more through our website or by mail 3455 Highland Rd, Ste# 102, Dallas, Texas 75228.