Larry Thomas G'99, a School of Education graduate student, has distinguished himself as a student leader on campus. He takes special pride in founding the African American Male Congress.
Larry Thomas G'99 came to Syracuse University determined to take a leadership role in minority student activities. Recognized as a "champion of diversity," he garnered applause from SU officials, including Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw, for his brainchild, the African American Male Congress (AAMC). In February 1998, Thomas's vision for the AAMC became a reality. He invited a group of SU freshmen he calls "the cream of the crop" to the Talented Tenth Institute, a 12-week leadership training program he devised to provide intellectual and social challenges. Participants were responsible for leading forums on communication and team-building skills, conflict resolution, negotiation, stress management, and networking. Thomas shared many of the skills he acquired in leadership roles as an undergraduate at Rowan University in New Jersey. The training, Thomas says, elevated the AAMC on campus to "the premier student organization for African American males as emerging leaders." |
"I found that being a leader is not just having responsibility fall on you," says Thomas, who is pursuing a master's degree in higher education administration from the School of Education. "This is special leadership training for a core group of African American men in the freshman class."
At Rowan University, Thomas was an active member of the campus chapter of the NAACP, established the chapter newsletter, and founded a prototype of SU's AAMC. Thomas sees the organization as a way to fill a gap in black male leadership. African American women, he observes, have taken a significant interest in leadership roles. In 1994, at the Eighth Annual National Black Student Leadership Conference at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, women pointed to the dearth of African American male leadership. "The women were pleading for help," Thomas says.
The AAMC has earned support from Students Offering Service and the Supportive Services and Residence Life offices. To be eligible for membership, one must be a freshman in good academic standing, have a leadership position in a campus or community organization, and have an interest in effecting social changesomething Thomas strives for daily.
A typical day for Thomas, assistant area director for South Campus, is filled with meetings, mentoring, and advising, in addition to his academic responsibilities. He organized the Black History Month calendar of activities; arranged events for I Have a Dream Week to celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and helped develop activities for Women's History Month and Latino Heritage Week. "I just saw a need for these activities," Thomas says. "I thought it was very important to do something to help educate people."
He also has worked closely with Irma Almirall-Padamsee, associate dean of student relations and director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. "There are many people one meets in life who talk about making a real difference in the lives of those around them," Almirall-Padamsee says. "But it is only once in a blue moon that you meet a person like Larry who doesn't merely talk about making change, but invests the necessary time and energy to do it."
The AAMC is recruiting new members this spring, and wants to develop a mentoring program next year with upperclassmen working with students a year behind them. Several members volunteer a few hours a week with the Bishop Forey Foundation, a neighborhood program based on Syracuse's west side and coordinated by the local Catholic Diocese. Eventually, freshman members will mentor high school seniors.
Thomas says he is confident that the congress will continue to grow after he leaves SU. "This is a group with tremendous potential," Thomas says. "They are the leaders of tomorrow." And congress members are grateful to have Thomas's example to follow. "He's done a good job keeping the glue in the seams," says sophomore Kevin Cooper. "He'll do whatever he can to help people reach their goals."
After graduation, Thomas plans to work in higher education for several years and then pursue a Ph.D. in sociology. Above all, he wants people to know he cares. "Students need to know you care," he says, "before they will care what you know."