This article, written by Liberty Ferda, originally appeared in the winter 2020 issue of Pitt Magazine.
You may find Tony Fountain handing out snacks to teachers in a middle school parking lot … or giving a tuition check to a college student majoring in education ... or lecturing on the growing shortage of dedicated, qualified public school teachers.
It’s different from the work that consumed most of his professional career serving as a chief financial officer and project manager for high-profile clients such as the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Defense. But uplifting educators is Fountain’s passion—and the core objective of his nonprofit, Support America’s Teachers.
He is part of a family legacy that cherishes learning and those who facilitate it. He grew up hearing stories about his great-great-grandmother, who was born into enslavement in 1836 but managed to gain enough education to teach those freed after emancipation. His father earned a master's degree in education from Pitt in 1941 but had to work as a janitor, Fountain says, because schools wouldn’t hire a Black teacher.
When he came to the University, Fountain (A&S ’70) turned his attention to civil rights as a leader with Pitt’s Black Action Society. He advocated for progressive change, including the recruitment of more Black students, faculty and staff—measures that helped make a Pitt education more accessible to all.
Now Fountain’s daughter is a high school science educator, which is how he learned of the challenges the profession faces today, including low pay, overcrowded classrooms, and inadequate supplies. It inspired him to create Support America’s Teachers, which holds appreciation events, advocates teachers’ value, and opens doors for the next generation of educators.
“Education is the most important investment we make,” he says, “not just for our children, but for our communities.”
His efforts carry on a tradition worthy of his family—past, present and future.
Read more articles from Pitt Magazine’s winter 2020 issue.