"There was a point in my life when I could have used a book like that — when I was a kid. I mean, who would provide the leadership for me to come out of Georgia? My grandfather did all he could. My grandmother did all she could. Who would say to me, 'There's a way out of there to greater heights?' No. Who would put the crumbs down? Who would blaze the trail? Who would reach back and say, 'I traveled this path. It was really hard, but I was just like you?'
"I would have wanted somebody to be honest with me, someone to come back and say, 'I was there with you, just like you — I was there just like you are,' not that 'I'm greater than you are,' not that, 'I'm stooping down to touch you or condescending to you,'" Thomas says. "'I was there, and I can't solve all your problems, but here is a way that might work. I don't have all the answers, but here is something that I humbly submit might work.'"
"And that's not just for blacks. That's not just for kids. That's for everybody who's still trying to be hopeful with their problems," Thomas says. "You can't have it both ways. You can't say, 'I had no problems, but I could help you.' You've got to say, 'I had those problems, and I want to help you and be a part of your solution.'"
Thomas then talks about meeting and mentoring children, and visiting with the football players at the University of Nebraska, many of whom have their own personal and family struggles, which he has counseled them through. Traveling with Thomas outside of Washington, D.C., he engages with others and is at ease with himself, his booming laugh frequent. He listens closely — to students, security guards, "real people" — instead of holding Court. He asks questions. He offers encouragement.
"If I come down from Mount Olympus to them, how do they identify? How do we bond? You saw their eyes. Those are kids," he says. "They're just like me, and I see myself in them."
To continue on to Part V: Finding Peace, please click here.