Write down the people that mean the most to you.


That was the first thing Dr. Eric Thomas, world-renowned motivational speaker, asked students to do during the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Black History Month Celebration. The event was hosted at the HPER Complex Arena Thursday.


“What I want you to think about when you write that down is that how the people that mean the most to you are the people that are affected by the decisions you make on a daily basis,” said Thomas.


Affectionately know as “ET”, Thomas is the CEO of Consulting Firm, ETA LLC. Through his company, he’s worked with Fortune 500 companies including General Electric, Quicken Loans, AT&T, Nike, Under Armour, New Balance and UPS. Additionally, he consults for franchises within Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and Major League Soccer. His messages of self-empowerment, accountability and tenacity reaches millions across social media.


“I started following him last year,” said UAPB alumna Kimberly Brown of his Instagram account with 1.5 million followers. “When I found out he was coming here, I jumped on the opportunity to get here and see him. I like the fact that he’s transparent and I like the fact that he’s genuine. I heard about him awhile ago and I was turned off by his approach, because I was like, ‘I don’t want to hear that, he’s too brash.’ But, when I actually sat down and listened to what he was saying even though I didn’t like it, I knew that I needed it.”


A packed house sat attentively as Thomas reminded them they were kings and queens, so their actions should reflect it. He implored students to not constantly party, but instead focus on their academics while striving to be better than average.


“It’s easy to be average when you think about yourself,” he said. “HBCUs didn’t start because of average people.”


Writing down important people in their lives wasn’t the only thing Thomas asked students to do. Throughout his speech, he demanded that they take a hard look at their lives especially if achieving success was important to them in not only in college, but also long after they received their diploma.


“I wish I would’ve had somebody when I was 16 that pulled me to the side and made me think,” he said. “One of the things I want you to do is think. I want you to pray that you become a phenomenal decision maker.”


As someone who experienced homelessness, a fatherless childhood and struggles in school, Thomas insisted that he used those building blocks as a roadmap to his success. He also encouraged students without fathers in their lives to not let that be an excuse to preventing them from excelling. Thomas’ message wasn’t just aimed at students, but also to their parents.


“Mama, stop spoiling these kids,” he said. “Stop. Don’t prepare your babies for the house. Prepare them for the real world. Ain’t no degrees in basements. Ain’t no degrees in the house.”


Recent graduate Isaiah Bolden hopes to become a motivational speaker one day, so Thomas’ message spoke to his desire to fulfill that dream.


“It was a lot that he was talking about that I do on a regular basis,” Bolden said. “But, when you hear it from somebody that’s actually successful, it lets you know that you are on the right path.”


Like many others, when Jaylen Randolph found out that Thomas was the guest speaker for the Black History program, he couldn’t pass up the chance to hear him speak in person.


“This was actually a great turnout,” said Randolph, a graduating senior studying biology pre-med. “In my four years being here, it’s probably the biggest turnout I’ve actually seen for a Black History program. Considering the fact that we had it in the HPER instead of the Fine Arts building, it was more space and it was a packed out space. So, that really made me happy.”


Following his speech, Thomas received a standing ovation. Given the opportunity to pick his brain during the question and answer portion of the program, students rushed to get in line.


“He had a great message to share and I hope that our students were genuinely curious to hear what he had to say and ingested everything,” said Tisha Arnold, UAPB public information officer. “He’s one of a few that have come through that asks you to take notes, so that means he wants you to retain something. He truly wants to authentically improve the situation of those around him.”


Before leaving, Thomas challenged students to make their “next move,” their “best move” and “make the rest of their life, the best of their life” while making their mom, school and of course, themselves “proud.”


“It’s your world,” he said. “You are at a phenomenal institution with phenomenal faculty and staff. No more excuses. You are the boss of you. I want you to work hard like your ancestors. I want you to leave this place and I want you to be phenomenal.”