MTSU Black History Month keynote speaker Eric Thomas recounts personal journey, encourages students

Photo and story by KeWana McCallum / Contributing Writer

Eric Thomas provided MTSU’s 2018 Black History Month keynote speech Monday night in the Student Union Ballroom with the hopes of motivating students and faculty.

Thomas started motivational speaking in 2007 and became known as a prominent author and minister throughout the years. He created a consulting firm, ETA LLC, that offers education consulting, executive coaching and athletic development.

“I get a little nervous because there are those of you in this room where, if I deliver the right message, it could possibly change the direction of your life,” Thomas began.

He discussed opportunity and how everyone should take advantage of each chance they get to help further themselves in life. He then described his journey and how he got to where he is now.

“I’m a high school dropout,” he said. “I lived in abandoned buildings.”

Thomas’ mother wasn’t in his life much, but he described how important it was to her that he got an education. He had been kicked out of high school, which prompted her to talk to the principal, who was not budging.

“The principal was like, ‘Three strikes, and you’re out,’” Thomas said.

Thomas then started attending his friend’s church, and throughout the months that he was there, the pastor would consistently ask him one question: had he finished school?

“I’m thinking to myself, ‘This dude has lost his mind,’” Thomas said. “I’m from Detroit. We do Ford. We do GM. We do Chrysler. Don’t nobody do school.”

The pastor continued suggesting that Thomas get his GED diploma.

“‘You (have) an anointing on you,’” Thomas recalled the pastor saying.

Thomas did not grow up in a church so he wasn’t sure what “anointing” meant. However, the pastor insisted that he was going to “change the world.”

“My man was telling me I’m going to change the world,” Thomas said. “(I wasn’t even) eating on a regular basis.”

Thomas stressed to students not to let current situations affect their future.

“The opportunity (doesn’t) matter,” Thomas said. “It’s the person that matters.”

After the pastor decided that he wasn’t getting through to Thomas, the pastor’s wife started asking him the same question.

“(The pastor) was from the military,” Thomas said. “So, he was trying to scare me. I’m like, ‘Whatever. (You’re not) my dad.’”

Thomas discussed how different the experience was once the pastor’s wife took a gentler approach.

“(The pastor’s wife) was short and round,” Thomas said. “She had this hug. She’d bring you in. (She’s about) 5’3″, and she’d suck you right in.”

Months passed, and Thomas’ answer was still the same.

After a while, Thomas began to feel bad because he felt that he was letting the pastor’s wife down. Eventually, she was able to talk him into getting his GED diploma with her compassionate strategy. 

Thomas received his GED diploma, and motivated by his wife whom he met at the church he was attending at the time, he went to college and graduated from Michigan State University. He now has his Ph.D. After achieving that, he wanted something else to aim for.

“I was like, ‘OK. I need something else I can wake up to.’”

His next goal is to win the Nobel Prize.

Thomas gave students advice, such as taking advantage of the different tools that are available to them and utilizing the books and professors that are on campus.

“You better learn the language,” Thomas said. “You better learn the codes. You better learn the rules because you can’t go to another community and contribute to that community.”

He described the importance of networking with different people — even if you don’t like them.

“It’s called a relationship,” Thomas said. “You can do things for them, and they can do things for you.”

He ended with encouraging students to not only try while they’re in school but go beyond the expectations to become successful in life.

“(You have to be) fruitful,” Thomas said. “You have to go to class … You have to finish the class. (You have to be) fruitful, and after you’re fruitful, you will start multiplying. And then you will have dominion.”

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