Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Singer segues from hitting high notes to making ripples

01/06/2020 - 9am
Michelle Tyner

Southwestern Michigan College Admissions Counselor Michelle Tyner traded her previous singing life, soaring to high notes, for a more grounded goal, “creating ripples.”

Influenced by her mentor, Bonita Mitchell, the Eau Claire resident hopes to positively impact Cass County and Benton Harbor students.

“I loved school so much when I was younger, I would take leftover homework papers and try to teach my brothers and sisters,” Tyner said. “There are five of us altogether. I loved learning and wanted to be a teacher, but didn’t know how to put it together with singing.”

“I believe in making ripples,” Tyner said. “I plant seeds and impact lives. Bonita was the first rock in the water. I’m a ripple of Bonita. Making ripples is what we were put on Earth to do. I care about students and want to focus on the good in every person I come into contact with.”

While still in high school, Tyner in 2003 sang at T.D. Jakes’ Dallas megachurch, The Potter’s House, before 5,000 people thanks to Mitchell. “I flew down to sing a song I wrote at a conference. I looked like a fairy-tale princess in a beautiful, custom-made $1,000 dress. Bonita also worked it out to where Stevie flew us to California to sing at his charity event, Stevie Wonder’s House Full of Toys” Christmas benefit concert.

After graduating from Benton Harbor High School in 2004, she landed a Central Michigan University scholarship, majoring in theatre rather than music. “I knew how to sing, but had really bad stage fright,” Tyner said. “My mother would host talent shows for her company. I didn’t win until I started singing gospel music. It was then I realized that my voice is a gift from God and my gift to Him is sharing it with others.”

Not only did she release an album, Dying to Live, before graduating in 2010, but expects her second of a three-part project, Dying to Love, to drop in March 2020 as a “representation of my growth as a believer and as a person.”

From CMU, Tyner fled Michigan winters for Texas. She worked 5 ½ years for Experian Consumer Direct in Dallas, specializing in conflict resolution with her calming personality.

Tyner joined a rap group, Building Narrow Minds, which focuses on living the abundant life Christ promises. They were selected to open for Switch Foot, Third Day and Flame at the Rangers’ Globe Life Park during the DFW Spirit Fest. Sticking to her roots has welcomed many opportunities, including a monumental win against talent from all over the world during an internship with the Disney College Program.

“I discovered my gift of songwriting in the sixth grade while walking past a tulip. The song was called, ‘I Got a Rose.’’’ Despite its dubious beginning, the tune was an instant playground hit. Tyner would go on to win several talent competitions while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at CMU. “It became my side hustle.”

She won mid-Michigan’s 2007 “American Idol” preliminary from 75 vocalists, advancing all-expenses-paid to Philadelphia.

Tyner, who gave her life to Christ at 14, said, “Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Tyner came home to Michigan in 2016, joining SMC last September from Benton Harbor Area Schools. She earned her master’s degree in education through Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz.

Tyner married Deonte just before arriving on campus, but knew the Detroiter for years from Bible studies he led at Wayne State University while she was similarly engaged with her CMU Christian sorority.

Bonita Mitchell, Tyner’s mentor, earned a 1979 fashion merchandising degree from Davenport University and served as Wonder’s wardrobe consultant for a decade, June 1990-May 2000. Mitchell is also CEO of Thread of Hope Records and I’m Saving Myself Executive Director. Her husband of 33 years, Kevin, pastors Dowagiac’s Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

“My mentor changed my life,” Tyner said, “the way she loves people and how passionate she is about serving others. That’s what I want to do. Relationships matter and are the lifeblood of every company. I’ve always worked in customer service, putting their needs above my own. I love what I do and never stop thinking about changing the world. I’ve performed with famous people and traveled all over, but at the end of the day what matters most is loving other people. My favorite part of my job at SMC is getting a chance to sit down and talk with students. I’ve had kids say, ‘You changed my life today.’”