Pierre Thomas Speaks at Annual Dinner

Legacy Museum = Knowledge = Pride = Achievement

The gathering for the tenth annual dinner of the Legacy Museum filled the dining room at Virginia University. Together with 250 noble Lynchburg citizens were other distinguished attendees such as Delegate Shannon Valentine, Mayor Joan Foster, Lynchburg City Council member Caesor Johnson, and the keynote speaker, Pierre Thomas, as well as several members of his family.

Mr. Thomas, currently with ABC News, is a native of Amherst County and a graduate of Virginia Tech. He began his career in journalism withThe Roanoke Times and World News before moving on to The Washington Post and then to ABC News. His reporting during 9/11 contributed to winning Peabody and Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards and an Emmy for ABC News. He attributes this achievement to having been able to suppress overwhelming emotions about the horrific events while on the air.

His speech in Lynchburg was not unemotional, but was filled with warmth and passion, and struck exactly the right chords with the audience. This was due not only to journalistic skills. His speech had the ring of truth, because Mr.Thomas grew up in Amherst County, is rooted in the region, and is one of its people. Unlike some speakers, he did not simply rush in, inform himself a bit about the area, make a few comments with local color to impress and amuse the audience, and then rush out again.

Despite his distinguished career and many awards, Pierre Thomas is a humble man. He told the audience that he knew no millionaires or famous people when he was growing up, but drew inspiration instead from a father who never missed a day of work. This work ethic served the audience well on the day of the dinner. Had it not been for this lesson from his father, the audience might have sat there without a speaker. The day had seen several breaking news crises, and someone at ABC News had hinted that Thomas might consider canceling his trip to Lynchburg. Canceling a fund-raiser (for which he received no payment) and casting aside a commitment made some time ago would not have met with the approval of his father. Thomas never considered doing so. Instead, he made an arrangement with the ABC News affiliate to report the news from Lynchburg at 6:30, and was able to rush over to Virginia University in time for his speech. In between, he even managed to visit the Legacy Museum.

Pierre Thomas is passionate about the power of education and the importance of institutions such as the Legacy Museum in educating people-particularly the young. For him, education is the “great equalizer.” He reminded the audience that in 1831, Virginia passed a law making it illegal for slaves to learn to read. Clearly, those who passed this law knew that reading was the key to empowerment. So did the slaves. Thomas reflected upon what it must have been like to be in chains on a slave boat, ripped from family and all that one holds dear and familiar, bound for an unknown destination. Rather than viewing slaves as helpless victims, he emphasized and celebrated the tremendous spirit enslaved people had to have simply in order to survive. This made them special. He stressed the importance of empowering today’s youth by tapping into that incredible strength.

In order to illustrate the urgent need for instilling the strength and values of their forefathers in today’s young people, Thomas described the sadness that he feels when he sees a young African American walking down the street with his underwear showing. This struck a strong chord in the audience, producing loud applause. Such young people must learn to draw pride from the past and to understand its power. That is where the Legacy Museum comes in. It is a door between the past and the future, and Thomas urged everyone in the community, particularly the young, to visit it.

When asked what advice he would give to young people interested in journalism, Mr.Thomas gave a very simple but powerful answer: One should simply say “You can do it!” His recognition that it is not necessarily easy, and that there are still obstacles, produced more applause from the audience. Yet, quoting from “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” popularly referred to as “The Negro National Anthem,” he said that not only can today’s youth “sing a song full of faith,” but also, “now, a song full of hope.” Words such as “hope” and phrases such as “You can do it!” consciously call forth the role model of President Obama. Although too modest even to insinuate such a thing himself, Pierre Thomas is also a powerful role model for young African Americans. Pierre Thomas and Barack Obama could do it, and so can they! Pierre Thomas and Barack Obama are carrying on the spirit of their forefathers and achieving the dreams of their fathers, and so can they!

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