Tyrone Winfrey, Detroit educator and youth advocate, dies at 63

Tyrone Winfrey Sr., a longtime educator and advocate for Detroit’s youth who helped many of them to go to college, died Saturday. He was 63.

Winfrey, who was born and raised in Detroit, was the executive director of community affairs for the Detroit Public Schools Community District. He was a former DPSCD board member and board president, according to his LinkedIn profile. He also worked for the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan. For two decades, Winfrey recruited metro Detroit students as a college admissions administrator.

“There are few who cared more about Detroit children than Tyrone Winfrey. Period!” Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti wrote to Chalkbeat in an email. “Nothing drove Tyrone more than trying to get things right for Detroit children, the school district, and the city.”

Vitti believes in keeping a professional distance in his relationships with colleagues, but said Winfrey “grew to be a friend, an uncle to me.”

“On Saturday morning, the world and more importantly, DPSCD, the city of Detroit, lost a legend,” Vitti said. “Over the years I have met so many people from old to young who have benefited from his advocacy and leadership. So many Detroiters would not have gone to college without his work connecting them to universities throughout Michigan and the country.”

Winfrey was a 1977 graduate of Cass Technical High School and played football at the University of Wyoming, according to his Facebook profile. After completing his undergraduate studies in organizational communications, he came back to his hometown to earn a masters degree in counselor education at Wayne State University.

In 1987, he married Janice Winfrey, the current Detroit city clerk.

“Detroit has lost a great public servant in the passing of Tyrone Winfrey, Sr. My condolences go out to his wife Janice and their children,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. “Tyrone was a tireless advocate for the educating of Detroit’s children.”

Winfrey was an outreach admissions counselor at Michigan State and director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan  In those roles, he sought to increase the enrollment of underrepresented students.

In 2006, Winfrey pivoted from higher education to K-12 when he was elected to the Detroit Board of Education. He eventually became the school board president. He was selected to be the first chief of staff for the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, a state-operated school system created to operate some of the worst performing schools in Detroit.

Detroiters shared condolences and memories on social media.

“Tyrone was a strong man in stature, he had a gentle soul that always greeted you with that smile and hug,” wrote Jonathan Kinloch, a Wayne County Commissioner and former Detroit school board member, in a Facebook post.

“Tyrone didn’t just talk about putting students first, Tyrone fought to ensure that was at the core of every decision we made.”

Winfrey’s passion for serving Detroit’s youth extended to his faith, according to Bishop Charles Ellis III, leader of the Greater Grace Temple on Detroit’s west side. They connected nearly four decades ago and maintained their friendship over the years. Winfrey helped to bring national college fairs to the church, where he served as a deacon, bringing in  thousands of Detroit-area youth.

Ellis recounted that when Winfrey was a young man, he “always seemed a little more mature than most of the young guys at the time,” and had a passion for education that began with his desire to go to college. 

“He was sold on the idea that if children and young people wanted an education, he was going to find a way to make that dream become a reality,” Ellis said.

In 2021, DPSCD recognized Winfrey’s education advocacy with a special Lifetime of Excellence tribute, commending him for his “laser sharp focus on student achievement and engagement.” 

“If you think about someone who was born and raised in Detroit, and gave back to his community, I can’t think of an individual who better represents that,” superintendent Vitti said at the time.

He described Winfrey as “the bridge and the advocate” for countless Detroit youth, many of whom as first-generation college students had to navigate the “difficult process of feeling comfortable in college, filling out forms, meeting the right people, and overcoming isolation.”

“It’s hard to go around the city, at least before the pandemic, and not meet young people who are now adults who credit Mr. Winfrey for being the reason why they went to Michigan and Michigan State,” Vitti said.

On Monday, Vitti said Winfrey continued to work while undergoing cancer treatments.

“His work ethic was unparalleled,” he said. “Janice, his wife, had to beg me to convince him to slow down during COVID and his treatments (we were very unsuccessful in doing that). He hated to miss work. It was never a job or paycheck for him but his purpose—his passion.”

In his final days, Ellis said Winfrey was tirelessly thinking of what was to come, already planning for next year’s Come Home alumni weekend and ways to engage more former Detroit students.

“He is now resting from his labor, but his works are going to continue … they’re going to be young men and women who will be telling their kids about Tyrone Winfrey,” he said.

In addition to his wife, Winfrey is survived by his three children, Chad, Lauren, and Tyrone Jr., and his grandchildren.

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at [email protected]



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