On Wednesday, March 24, Samford’s Director of Diversity Enrichment and Relations Cameron Thomas participated as the third speaker in the Leadership Lunch Series with his presentation “A Charge to Keep I Have: Empowerment in the Space.”
In his presentation, Thomas outlined the lives, leadership, and legacy of three major activists in the Civil Rights Movement: Martin Luther King Jr, Fannie Lou Hammer and John Lewis. Thomas wanted to present leaders from diverse backgrounds to encourage personal empowerment through sharing their stories.
“I was taking on the responsibility to expose people to names they probably had never seen before,” Thomas said. “I tried to articulate how MLK represented the astute of the Black male middle class. But then we had sharecropper Fannie Lou Hammer who did not have the greatest education, but she had Mississippi in her bones, and we were able to see the lived reality of the injustices in the South. And John Lewis who has aspirations of being a preacher, but seeing that the call for him was to take Christian principles and Christian consciousness to the legislative halls in Washington D.C.”
Thomas adapted his Leadership Lunch lecture from a presentation he gave at a diversity conference at Lone Star Community College in Houston, Texas. Both presentations featured quotes from Civil Rights leaders, but Thomas intentionally changed the framework of the Leadership Lunch lecture to match with Samford’s Christian values. Instead of using the social change model, Thomas showed Jemar Tisby’s ARC for racial justice.
“Lone Star is a public institution, but here I found an aspiration to empower Christians directly by nature of the institution but also through the Christian framework,” Thomas said. “We must look at racial justice, not as just a box that we can check, but as a lifelong commitment which is the seed of the ARC of racial justice.”
Thomas shared that the ultimate goal of his presentation was to encourage students to be empowered and to empower others to make change in their spaces.
“My hope was that there was personal empowerment, but also a challenge to be able to upend places in our lives where we have privilege, where we have opportunities that have been given to us by the social construct of race in America, where we are able to see that we do have a responsibility to make this world better for the kingdom of God and for the glory of God,” Thomas said.
Thomas began his journey at Samford in the fall of 2010 as an undergraduate religious studies major and marketing minor. During his time as a student, Thomas participated in numerous organizations around campus including Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and the Student Government Association where he served as the student body president during both his junior and senior year.
As a senior, Thomas saw the creation of the Leadership Lunch Series and became the first student to speak as a part of it. Seven years later, Thomas reflected on his experience of returning to the Leadership Lunch Series as an alumnus and now faculty member.
“It was a humbling experience,” Thomas said. “It was an opportunity for me to reflect on being in leadership, coming back and seeing that the program is still a vital part of the Samford community. But also seeing kind of a new tone that I have with respect to the particular topic. If I could go back and find the notes from that previous lecture presentation, I hope that I’d see not only the evolution of Cam, personally and professionally, but also see that thread, that cord, of that foundation that was laid then, but now moved a little further.”
After graduating in 2014, Thomas attended seminary at the Beeson Divinity School, where he also began to work in the Office of Admissions as a Multicultural Recruiter. After receiving his Masters of Divinity in 2018, Thomas continued his work with Samford and was transferred to the Office of Diversity in August of 2020 where he now serves as the Director of Diversity Enrichment and Relations.
“I really believe that Samford University has the necessary pieces together in order to be the light on the hill concerning diversity, equity and inclusion with our Christian commitment. I really think that, and that to me is inspiration and encouragement to do such work,” Thomas said.