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Meet Eric Thomas — Our #CUE19 Keynote Speaker

Eric Thomas

CUE Educators, good morning!  I’m looking forward to meeting and, speaking with you all in just a few days and, in advance of our meeting, I wanted to share a little bit about myself and, maybe even more importantly, share with you my passion for education.  To begin, we share similar passions. For example, your mission and vision statement:

CUE inspires innovative learners by fostering community, personalizing learning, infusing technology, developing leadership, and advocating educational opportunities for all.

And your goal statement: “CUE’s goal is to inspire innovative learners in all disciplines from preschool through college,” are the things nearest and dearest to my heart. Quality education and personal empowerment are two of the most powerful tools we can employ when helping students achieve their wildest dreams.

As you seek to empower the next generation of leaders, my story acts as motivation for these same kids to do and be more than they ever thought they could.  While I had the benefit of growing up in a two-parent, middle-class household in Southfield, MI, I learned by way of a family member that my father was not my “real father.” Unbeknownst to me, my biological father and the father who raised me were two distinctly different people.  One I knew all my life and the other I never knew existed. That secret upended my life and set things in motion that would eventually lead me to leave home, drop out of high school, lose my home, complete my GED, get into college, take twelve years to complete a four-year degree, and ultimately earn both a Masters Degree and Ph.D. in Education.

As educators, we understand that stable foundations are essential for healthy learning.  My foundation was shaken to its core by the news that my dad wasn’t “my dad.” The build up of raw emotions and questions caused me to develop a fundamental lack of trust. I had been lied to by those closest to me about everything that mattered. Not surprisingly, this revelation affected every aspect of my life, most notably my experiences at home, my relationship with my parents, and my educational pursuits. If not for the selfless actions of a local pastor whose encouragement led to the completion of my GED and enrollment in college, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Understanding that my family’s dynamic is not unique, I’ve spent the entirety of my life forming educational interventions for kids whose paths would end badly were it not for an understanding ear, a compassionate approach, and a course-correction for their lives.  I’ve achieved this level of success in my career because people invested in me when I didn’t look, live, or sound like I do today.

They saw my future at a time when I couldn’t even begin to imagine it. With that kind of investment, there was no way I could avoid advocating for those desperately in need of a helping and understanding hand.  My approach to “course-correcting” those lives that were on a downward spiral began while I was an undergraduate student at Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL. It was there that I created a GED program where I helped others clear this first rung of the educational ladder.  From there, I created a non-profit organization focused on breaking destructive familial cycles — appropriately named Break the Cycle – I Dare You. (BTC) BTC gave these pre-teens and teens the hope and resources they needed to break free from the generational curses of failure and addiction that plagued their families.

After the incredible success we experienced with BTC, we set our sights on Michigan State University. During my tenure as an Academic Advisor for the university, I created The Advantage Program. Given the plethora of challenges already facing students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the combination of university life, rigors of study, structured independent learning, and the entire University experience can prove too much to handle.

Consequently, these students skip more classes than most, don’t correspond with their advisors or professors, become preoccupied with problems at home, and find it easier to give up rather than press forward. What these students needed was to recognize that they could excel not in the absence of their problems, but rather in spite of them. The Advantage Program,  a student-lead, produced, and presented platform, spoke to these issues. The response rate, attendance, and most importantly, retention has grown exponentially.  While The Advantage Program remains an incredibly successful initiative at Michigan State University, it couldn’t save everybody.  I’m sad to say that there were some students who couldn’t see the value in staying the course and finishing strong.

They dropped out, returning to the familiar life and joining the growing statistical ranks of those on the lowest rungs of the socio-economic strata.  I’m an eternal optimist which means that I believe this negative choice is one they wouldn’t even have considered if we were able to help  them when they were younger. My foremost priorities are these:

1: Establishing the kind of educational foundation that encourages belief in one’s ability and provides the kind of academic support that promotes personal success and achievement

2: Teaching and showing these students that they too can compete at the highest levels of academics

Which brings me to my most recent educational endeavor, School Days with Eric Thomas, LLC. I have found that the students who perform the best are the ones who believe they can excel because they connected with the curriculum and had a teacher whose passion for the curriculum and the student was the candle that lit the way for their eventual success.

I believe that the success of any student is based on how well the elements of teachers, curriculum, students, parents, and community blend.  

Support on a few, but not all, of these fronts is difficult for even the most stalwart of educators, which is why I am so excited about my School Days Initiative. It speaks to each of these elements and offers the best curriculum and foundation for those students most in need. Based on my prior experiences, I shouldn’t be here. If my life continued on the path I had chosen for myself, you wouldn’t even know my name.  Fortunately, compassionate educators embraced me, empowered me, and gave me the tools I need to live my best life.

CUE educators, we are those compassionate teachers, counselors, principals, administrators, and leaders, and I am proud to stand beside you as we save and empower a generation. 

         

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Eric Thomas