In America, the state of our young Black men, well Black men in general, is in a dire crisis. We have been knowing this for the past several years, but these past two years it has been become more evident that we need to start acknowledging our Black men who are mentors and leaders in the community. There are several great Black men out there that are striving in the pathways of success, and not just in sports and entertainment. We have Black men out there making a name for themselves by launching their own businesses and branding their images in a positive light. One of those young men is one by the name of Gerald Thomas.
Gerald Thomas grew up and calls the Westside of Chicago, IL home. Thomas attended Mose Vines Career Academy that was known for having a great basketball team and violence. While attending that school he was not afraid to stand out and use his intelligence which led him to becoming Senior Class President. In that position, Thomas was able to oversee and become a seed of change to how some of the polices went on in his high school.
Mr. Thomas continued to be a leader beyond his high school years. From Mose Vines he attended Philander Smith College, a private Historically Black College & University (HBCU) in Little Rock, AR which is known for Liberal Arts. While attending Philander, Thomas was able let his light shine to where professors saw the need to invest in him. During his freshman year, the president of the university at the time, Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, was one of Thomas’ main inspirations that continued to push him to greatness and would constantly remind him that whatever he wanted to accomplish he could attain it.
From the words of Dr. Kimbrough he told Thomas that, “You have to find something that you really enjoy doing and find a way to get paid for it.” This eventually led Thomas to the world of Public Relations where he is now a pillar to assisting others, especially young Black men from Chicago, that you can make it out of your situation to attain success as long as you stay focus.
I recently interviewed the rising PR mogul where he discussed his career vision, the success of his first fashion show under his own company GDT Project, and what his plans are for the future.
How did you get into public relations?
When I was a freshman at Philander Smith College I applied for an internship at The Source magazine in New York. I was very afraid to do it, but after my college president told me and another student that we should apply we did it. Upon applying for this internship, the Source had not had anyone who had interned who was not at least a junior or a senior, and as freshmen we both landed the internship, however, I was the only one we accepted it.
While at the Source, I was a campus representative where I promoted the issues that would be released on a month to month basis. Being a rebel I found a cool way for my school to be the face of the magazine to recruit more college students. They loved my idea and it went on to be on the second page of magazine for five months because of the effort that I put into it. As you know, it takes a lot in the world of public relations to land those kinds of brand engagements. At that time I didn’t know instrumental that was. I enjoyed it though and wanted to do more of it, so from there I started researching and finding out what it was that I really wanted to do.
In addition to that, I started really studying and following a fashion PR guru by the name of Kelly Cutrone who I have grown to admire. After seeing how successful she was on the fashion side of PR, I realized that I wanted to do a mixture of both entertainment and fashion PR. So after studying the craft and finding mentors within the industry it took off from there.
Most know Public Relations to be a female dominated industry, so with you being a male what has your experience been so far?
Public relations is definitely a female dominated industry. On one end I get that people do not respect that men are able to do public relations because we are looked at as either party promoters or as if we do not know what we are doing. In this particular industry what I found myself doing is less talking and more action. I’ll show what I have done and what I am capable of doing. I have really fused my works and my platform through social media as an avenue to showcase what I am able to do. More-so with that is that I just don’t wake up and say that I do public relations or I’m not just literally doing parties every single day. I am a person who accesses the yard. I literally wake up each day and I study the craft. I’m working on a Masters in Public Relations. I’m really taking this serious and I’m continuing to learn through working with Trea Davenport at Trea Day PR which has been very instrumental in my career. I also follow Joshua King, an Atlanta based publicist; Robert Avery and Brandon Linnell, from BET; and Stephen H. Hill to see how they are coming up in PR. I’m not afraid to ask them questions if I see some interesting things that their clients have accomplished to pick their brain. I have found the support within this industry.
What advice do you have for young Black men who are trying to find their way in life?
When I think about young guys, especially on the Westside of Chicago, this story will inspire somebody because I’m going to be very open and transparent with them. This took a lot of hard work and was not easy. I have had friends who have been killed. I’ve had to come home in the middle of gun crossfire. I seen all of the violence, but I wasn’t allowing those situations to stamp my life story. I knew early on that I wanted more. My family always told me I was capable of more so I pushed for more and kept pushing and didn’t give up.
Once I reached a level of comfortability where I felt that I was able to help out the next person I instilled in them the acquired skills that needed to teach it to somebody else. Everywhere I go I am not afraid to share my story to help others.
You recently launched your first fashion show under your own PR firm, the GDT Project. So how was that experience and how did you go about things to ensure it was a success?
That was by far one of the most amazing experiences that I had. It was my 8th fashion show, but my first under my own company. Of course there was a lot of stress that I had thinking that no one would show up. I was thinking that the event would not be good, that there wouldn’t be good models or fashion. Honestly, it turned out to be everything more. I set a goal of having about 250 people, we had over 500. There was no radio advertisement, no marketing budget, or no celebrity host. I literally only had a team of 6 people who worked their butts off alongside me and used social media to sell tickets. So we sold and we sold and we sold tickets until you had no choice but to come to this event because we wanted people to know that we would be taking this city (Little Rock, AR) to another level. I also wasn’t afraid of partnering with new brands as well as bigger brands and explaining to them that I was going to open them up to a new audience. I did a lot of bartering, long night early mornings, and I worked my butt off.
I can’t stress enough of how blessed I am. One of my slogans that I use, especially when I’m feeling down is, “Faith + work=dreams attained”. That is how I went into things with “CROWN” (the fashion show). I am very pleased with the turnout of CROWN because nearly a month later I am still getting phone calls. That event generated a lot of business buzz for me. The event reached a positive turn of investment for me to help my company grow in a city that I recently moved to.
Nice! So what’s next for you and the GDT Project?
So my next project is really working with and assisting other people. I know it may sound a little cliché, but I what I really want to focus on is working with a group of very insightful young people who need some assistance in attaining their dreams. I’m getting ready to launch this new imitative where I will be partnering with these youth who are just like me who have a dream to help them reach it. I will be helping them not just mentally and spiritually, but also financially to take their dreams from paper or the computer screen into action. I plan on launching this towards the end of the 4th quarter. Although I am not rich, I feel that I am at a point to where I can give back in a major way.
What is one thing that the readers must know about you?
Despite what people say, social media can be positive. Again, my social media is not 100% brand driven but I am hugely successful in using my social networks in as a tool to network and to showcase what I am doing. It has been good for me and I know it can be good for other people.
For those that would love to speak with, network, and connect with Gerald Thomas, you can email him for business inquires at Gerald@thegdtproject.com, as well as visiting him via social media on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and his personal website www.thegdtproject.com.