With over 25 years of experience in the media and entertainment industry, Melanie Thomas is an award-winning producer, director, entrepreneur, executive producer and media professional. She is also from Sarasota.
In 2001, Thomas founded MelEcho Productions Inc., a multimedia and entertainment company, the first company for women and black women in Sarasota, Manatee and Venice. MelEcho Productions specializes in the production of television and entertainment programming. Thomas’ notable interviewees include President Barack Obama, Dr. Maya Angelou, Kirk Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Alicia Keys, Vivica Fox, Tyler Perry, Spike Lee, Chris Rock, Bebe and CeCe Winans, Magic Johnson, Jennifer Hudson, Vanessa Williams and more. .
In 2008, Thomas became Founder and Executive Producer of the Greatness Beyond Measure (GBM). GBM is a local leadership organization that aims to ignite the spirit of excellence in teenagers and young adults. It also provides a platform for his aspiring teen and young adult artists, musicians, poets, dancers, entrepreneurs and more to showcase their creative talents.
Thomas has been recognized for his community contributions by the American Advertising Federation, the Great Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the Sarasota County Chapter NAACP, and the Young Lawyers Division of the Sarasota County Bar Association.
Now in his 50s, Thomas works in the entertainment industry while running GBM. She also works with the Young Adult Ministry at the Trinity Christian Fellowship in Sarasota.
What was it like growing up in Sarasota?
“I grew up in the predominantly black neighborhood of Newton Estates and attended mixed schools. My parents, Rayford and Rosa Lee Thomas, raised me not to choose one group over another.”
Did you experience racism as a child?
“Most of my sense of being different came as an adult. One experience I vividly remember was when I was 46 when I was in an elevator with a white woman and her toddler son. His immediate reaction to seeing me was screaming and crying—he was terrified.It was clear he had never seen a black man before. .
“I was trying to figure out what was going on, but it was clear the child was reacting to what he was taught at home. His mother didn’t see me. I was there.” As if it was a normal reaction for him to be afraid of me. I will never forget it.
“This happens in grocery stores too. If I walk by or approach a white woman who has her purse in her basket, she grabs it. And recently, when I leave the store, the clerk She came over and scanned my body with her eyes to see if I was walking around with stolen goods. It makes me question other people.You should classify me as one of Them Man? “
“It’s also common for me to be one of a single minority, or a few blacks, in a room of over 50 white people at an event in Sarasota.”
How does it feel to be one of the only people of color in the room?
“Who cares? You need to do better with the people you send invitations to.
“God is the master of coloring and painting. That is why God has given us so many shades and shades, like mocha, chocolate, caramel, vanilla, just like he paints plants, grasses and flowers.” “Just because my skin is darker than yours doesn’t mean you’re better or more qualified. There’s no way God ranked them that way. God makes everyone different.” Give a gift. It is his choice and we must accept it.”
You are the mother of a 27 year old black man.What emotions do you get around the race? when you think about it?
“The first thing that comes to mind is the era of George Floyd. How his death happened was what made his murder different. From knee to neck it was a modern day lynching. And , For Derek Chauvin, he was trying to destroy what people thought was a low-value life. It was like. These people are taking lives. And it’s upsetting.
“Recently, I asked a young man, about 11 years old, what he thought of what happened to George Floyd. He started crying. He feared he would be killed by law enforcement. It’s even worse now for all mothers, myself included.
do you and your son talk about it?
“My son Derek lives in Los Angeles and he is an adult but I am concerned because of the reality of racial profiling and the rise of hate groups. I ask him to call me when he gets to where he is going and when he comes back. I will continue to pray. I cannot pray enough for the safety of my son and other young black men.
“When my son drove from Sarasota to Los Angeles, I was terrified. The advice from my dad and uncle was, ‘Whatever you do, don’t stop in Alabama. Fill up with gas before you get there.’ ‘Come in.'” My son had to cross deserts and mountains, but he was less afraid of racial profiling and police brutality. Because he is a black man.
“I asked him not to drive at night because I wanted it to be safer for him during the day and easier for people to see and witness. It would be a fun road trip.” It should have been, but it wasn’t.
“Our skin targets us, but white people lay in the sun for hours and go to the tanning booth to be my cinnamon color. Why society wants to embrace any part of the black community?” Why can’t we accept each other for the purpose of uniting rather than destroying? There is power in unity.
What experiences have made your career grow?
“I got pushback when I wanted to contribute an idea that made me look too intelligent. Then I risked being seen as ‘arrogant.'” My parents always said, “Melanie, You have to remember that if you want to be successful, you need to be at least three times better than the white guy next to you.That’s the only way to prove yourself.” . I say the same thing to my son. ”
How can I focus on the endgame?
“I’ve never had a bigger role model in my life than my mother and father. Thanks to my parents, who were married for 55 years until my father passed away in 2020, I know unconditional love. They and I.” Love from my extended family is where I go and draw strength. Love is the most powerful thing on earth.
Do you have a motto to live by?
“Marianne Williamson’s poem ‘Our Deepest Fear’ helped shape my life. It begins: ‘Our deepest fear is that we It’s not about being enough, our deepest fear is that we are immeasurably powerful, it’s not our darkness, it’s our light, we ask ourselves Brilliant, brilliant, talented, wonderful, who am I? No to do? You are a child of God.”
Tell me about immeasurable greatness.
“This poem helped shape the intentions behind GBM and through mentorships and partnerships with over 30 organizations and churches, youth of all ages and colors, including those who are underserved. empowering people in real life.
“From art to economics to technology to entrepreneurship to career development, I am delighted to be working with such talented young people. Some of our children are already designing robots. GBM is a resource that gives them what they need to reach the next level.
“We also award scholarships and promote technology and innovation as well as social networking. We also hold workshops and lectures to keep teenagers up to date on electronic media and other emerging trends. doing.”
Over the course of your career, you’ve interviewed some of the most influential black people in the world. Who left the biggest mark?
“I love performance, art and music to the bone, so I love touching the hearts of entertainers. Some of my best times are behind-the-scenes interviews.
“The first thing that comes to mind is Grammy Award winner Kirk Franklin. When his career started, he was different. He was the first of its kind. changed gospel music and took it to another level by embracing his music, which was not traditional and was ridiculed by churches, including black churches.
“I said to him, ‘People have problems with you and your music. They say it’s too radical. That’s not yes.’ No. That’s their problem. I’m doing what God told me to do.”
“Another memorable interview was with Dr. Maya Angelou. I still remember the essence of her being, her aura, the wisdom of her voice. Zola at Eatonville “That day at the Neil Hurston Festival was a magical, life-changing experience.”
What would you like your white friends and acquaintances to do now?
“I want them to take a stand, let their voices be heard, and use whatever influence they have to heal the division and hatred that is spreading.
“If someone says a harsh word, don’t be complicit in it. Don’t keep quiet. Given everything that’s happening in our country right now, don’t keep quiet.” .
“We have to spread more love. It’s the only way we can survive.“
Listening to Black Voices is a series created by Heather Dunhill.