This Speech By An HBCU President Lit A Flame In Me

As he was teaching himself how to read and write, Frederick Douglass, a formerly enslaved person, kept stumbling over one monolith of mystery – why is it that while many will pray for change for twenty years (and the evil institution of slavery that once limited the best-kept secret in the world’s history from its due: the United States Constitution), only some will recognize that change, it happens eventually: This mainly occurs when you pray with your legs. And the crucial puzzle piece: That fire that started to kindle within his spiritual being and physical body as a self-educated black boy who later became a giant among men, black or white.

The same fire that kindled in Douglass, which made him the most photographed man in the 19th century, is the fire that kindles in Central State University President Jack Thomas, whose inauguration address earned standing ovations from the audience earlier this month as some of his family, friends, and loved ones who had come from far and near watched in attendance. Others unable to join him that day for this particular occasion instead watched virtually.

Born to godly parents that could not get a formal education because they had to work in the fields and lived through the tumultuous battles of civil rights, Thomas compared himself to many of the honorees that Friday, March 4th: He too was a first-generation college student. Thomas grew up on a farm in Calhoun, a small community in Lowndes County, Alabama (which sits between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama). Of one of his earliest memories of his mother, who is no longer with us physically, he told the audience that he remembers her saying:

“Son, I want you to finish high school and go to college. Someone has to do something a little different from what your father and I have done.”

Through his mother’s encouragement, the CSU leader shared that he began to excel in his studies. He continues:

“I want to dedicate this address in honor of my mother, who passed away several years ago. She is symbolized in the audience today by a bouquet of roses, carried in by an usher during the procession. Mom, I know that you are smiling down on me! My father taught me the importance of a strong work ethic. My mother has since passed away, but my father still lives on the family farm. Central State University, I acknowledge the solid foundation and values instilled in me by my parents. Let’s honor my parents with a round of applause.”

Observing the pandemic challenges that rocked the entire world, Thomas mentioned how he had to remain steadfast, long-suffering, meek, kind, and humble as we all prayed for better days on our blocks. He adds:

“When I accepted the position as the 9th President of Central State University in February of 2020, I had no idea that I would be starting my tenure during a worldwide pandemic. In my previous transition, I rose from Provost to President within the same organization. I began that presidency by reviewing the university budget, developing a strategic plan, and meeting alumni and community stakeholders. Here, I began with Zoom meetings, conference calls, and by making heavy decisions about remote classes, wearing face coverings, testing and vaccinations, and by wondering if we would ever return to normal. I am proud to say that we are still standing, poised, and prepared to take Central State University to unimaginable heights of academic excellence!”

Central State students, faculty and staff enjoyed a tremendous 135th Charter Day celebration. Thomas recalls that this was the first traditional Charter Day held since his arrival on campus. He reflected on how fortunate he is to be surrounded by excellent students and committed faculty and staff:

“I then paused again back in my office following Charter Day and thought of how all of us kept pushing passed all obstacles. We all kept working; we kept answering phones; we kept raising money; we kept processing applications; we kept teaching; we kept enrolling students; we kept processing financial aid forms; we kept cleaning and sanitizing; we kept giving; and we kept providing wrap around services under challenging circumstances. In the words of Langston Hughes, our lives over the past two years “ain’t been no crystal stair,” but we stayed connected, composed, and committed to Central State University and to students. I stand before you today, a proud President. Proud of the sacrifices we all have made and proud that we have all made it back to this point. Please give our resilient students, staff, and faculty a round of applause! I know that it has not been easy. There have been many changes, but we are here. We are thankful and blessed.”

Check out the full inauguration address by CSU Prez Jack Thomas on HBCUBuzz.com.

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