UGA Black Alumni reflect on homecoming using #UGAHomecomingToMe

This post was contributed by Bridgette C. Burton 

As homecoming weekend approaches, we wanted to get reflections from our Black Alumni Leadership Council on what Homecoming meant to them. Members could respond to one or both of the following prompts:

What is Homecoming to You?

Describe UGA Homecoming in three words. 

 

Ambre Reed (BSFCS ’09), BALC Retention and Engagement Chair

Homecoming is a celebration of Georgia’s variety of Black experiences. Good, bad and sometimes ugly, when we come back to the Quad, we get a chance to write OUR story, create lasting memories, and show campus that we are #OneUGA.

 

Melonie Thomas (BBA ’86), BALC Secretary

#UGAHomecomingToMe is: Multi-generational, Spirited, Reconnection

 

 

 

T.J. Snowden (BSED ’04), BALC Vice President

To me, the homecoming experience means exactly what it says: “A home coming.” It is a welcoming sight to converge on Myers Quad to see friends and UGA family whom I have known for more than 15 years. It is coming home to a familiar place where I came of age (as a Louisiana transplant), and created a host of memories that cemented my decision to attend UGA as one of the best decisions I have ever made. Each Homecoming, I find myself more energized about connecting with the future of UGA, especially for students of color, and how UGA strives to transform itself into an inclusive environment for students and alumni to feel welcome. I cannot wait to be back among familiar faces and spaces to enjoy in fellowship that keeps getting better every year.

 

Tonya Henderson Freeman (AB ’86), BALC Fundraising Co-Chair

Homecoming brings back so many memories of my favorite time in my life– my years at UGA. Reminiscing on the long-lasting relationships that I cultivated while there, I get so excited to see old friends and familiar faces. The music, the energy, the partying, the stepping, the red and black, the football game, the HYPE!!!! I am elated to see all the young kids making memories as we did, memories that they will have for a lifetime. Gooooo Dawgs!! SO READY!!!!

 

Sheryl Merritt (BSHE ’88)

My three words for #UGAHomecomingToMe are very old school… “Off the chain!”

 

 

 

Bridgette Burton (ABJ ’11, BA ’11, MPA ’17), BALC Marketing and Communications Chair

#UGAHomecomingToMe is where I fall in love with UGA all over again. Every year, I am surrounded by amazing people who want to see me do well, who support me in my present and have guided me from my past. I have an opportunity to meet current students and share my experiences with them. Homecoming is sometimes the only time of year where I get to see some of my friends, and it is a time where I cherish the laughter and hugs. There is no other feeling than being with my Bulldog family. Can’t wait to see everyone! GO Dawgs!

UGA Black Alumni family, what is homecoming to you? Share your reflections with us via social media using the hashtag #UGAHomecomingToMe. 

Meet Melonie Thomas, Member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences, and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Melonie Thomas (BBA ’86) is a member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the university.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated in 1986 with a degree in marketing, and after a brief stint in retail management, I moved to LA and earned my MBA at Pepperdine University. As of 2000, I’ve been in the business of public health. Today, I live in Dunwoody, Georgia.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

I met Realenn Watters at a faculty and staff organization event and was asked what could be done to encourage more black students to apply to and attend UGA. I asked her what was being done in that area, so she told me to get involved with this other group that had the same ideas, and the group eventually became the Black Alumni Leadership Council.

L-R: Yvette Daniels, Melonie Thomas and Randy Groomes

Which Black Alumni Event are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the Admitted Students Reception because so many people come together to form a really great environment of caring and sincere interest. It serves as a reunion for a lot of the alumni. The students are glad to hear about the different programs that interest them, and the parents are relieved to hear from people that look like them and found a home at UGA.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

It’s allowed me to work with many passionate and caring people who have the same goals that I do. It provides a little extra purpose in life – we can do things in this organization that have a meaningful, lasting impact for centuries to come.

What is the most important experience you learned as a student?

You’re not on an island. Ask for help if you need it – there’s help at UGA for just about any kind of challenge, or any kind of change that you want to make. Reach out to other people and ask for help.

L-R: Kevin Aycock, Bill and Melonie Thomas at the 2015 Bulldog 100 Celebration

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

Don’t be afraid to step out and try something. Even if you aren’t sure that it will be a great fit for you, you’ll never know until you try. Don’t be afraid to take that step into a different career path. Also, maintain your relationships with your professors and friends beyond what’s expected in the curriculum. Stay in touch with those professors – they have a lot of insight and can help guide you, both in your career and in life. Many of the friends I made at UGA are still my friends today.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

I’ll go back to the BALC and our mission to recruit and retain qualified black students and faculty, to engage with students and other alumni, to encourage other alumni to donate to the university, and to encourage alumni to serve, in whatever capacity they can. If I can get corny for one second, I’m a GIRL (imagine the Power G). Giving to support scholarships, involving myself wherever and however I can, returning to the university and leaving a legacy through the work I do.

Melonie and her husband Bill (AB ’88), a member of the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors, were also featured on the blog in Spring 2017.

Meet Sheryl Merritt, Member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences, and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Sheryl Merritt (BSHE ’88) is a member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the university.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated from UGA in 1988. I was hired by Macy’s in their Executive Training Program and went to work there with intentions of moving up the ranks through management into a buyer role. However, I didn’t enjoy retail. I got my MBA in marketing from Mercer University and took a management buyout package to leave AT&T and begin my career in entertainment. I’ve worked for 20 years in various roles from radio stations (Hot 97.5), record labels, production companies (Organized Noize, Rowdy Records, Arrow Records) and a performing rights organization (BMI). I am a writer who has authored three books, “Dates With Jesus,” “Climbing Mountains,” and “Jesus Mark: Identifying Your Service Mark.” I also write for BMI’s R&B/Hip-Hop Awards, the Trailblazers of Gospel Music and Gospel Artist Dorinda Clark Cole’s TV Show.

Sheryl, far right, and other members of the BALC at Cultivating Connections, an event in partnership with the UGA Career Center.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

I first got involved with the Alumni Association when I was asked to serve on the Multicultural Planning Committee.  Shortly after, I spearheaded efforts with the DeKalb County Chapter and served as vice president, and later, co-president. I was asked to join the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors and served for 3 years. Now, I am a proud inaugural member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council.

Which Black Alumni event are you most proud of?

I am most proud of our first fundraiser we hosted last year. I am also proud of the homecoming tailgate and how it has grown. The support the Alumni Association gave us last year was phenomenal. Homecomings are special at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) and for so many years, that wasn’t the case for black alumni at UGA. Now, we also have something to look forward to – someplace to go and see old friends while meeting new ones.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

I get greater access to the university, its staff, students and other alumni through the events, activities and meetings. It has also connected me with a great group of council members – our synergy is amazing! We work hard and get the job done.

What is the most important thing you learned as a student?

I learned that it was important to develop my leadership skills and to not follow the crowd. As president of the Zeta Psi Chapter Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and member of the Black Affairs Council and Panhellenic Council, I was able to flourish and activate my leadership style.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

I would advise them to get to know students who are culturally different from them so they can learn about them and their experiences. I would also advise students to network with alumni and their teachers for greater opportunities. Lastly, take advantage of all the university has to offer.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

My commitment is to use my creativity, alumni connections and resources to effectively collaborate with others to further the mission of the Black Alumni Leadership Council – to recruit, retain, engage, donate and serve. I have mentored students from UGA throughout my career– through the Alumni Association and on my own. I will continue to give back and ensure that students of color receive every advantage and graduate!

Meet Ambre Reed, Member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences, and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Ambre Reed (BSFCS ’09), second from left in the above image, is a member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the university.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated in December 2009 from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences with a degree in financial planning. Because I graduated in December, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, so I worked in UGA’s Main Library as a library assistant. After that, I started [graduate school] at Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies to get my master’s in public administration, with a concentration in non-profit management. Today, I live in Washington D.C. and work at a non-profit organization called Year Up, a national organization that helps get low-income students into a training program for information technology and business, and helps them to get full-time jobs.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

When I moved to Atlanta to attend Georgia State, I met an alumnus named Jay Bailey. He worked for a non-profit that I was involved in, and he was very involved in organizing black alumni. He actually helped start the Black Alumni Affinity Group Homecoming Tailgate at Myers Quad. Working with him and meeting alumni really gave me a chance to see other black alumni whom I hadn’t met. Another alumna, Brandi Decker- Hunter, managed a Black Alumni social media site, and asked that I assist in transitioning the group over to Facebook. From there, I managed the group, and it now has more than 3,000 members.

Which Black Alumni event are you most proud of?

The Homecoming Tailgate; I think that’s the event that’s grown the most and helped bring awareness to black alumni on a campus level, as well as with alumni. Working to build that event on Myers Quad is something that I’m super excited about.

Photo provided by Lisa Conley (MED '09)

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

Serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council has shown me the power of community and the power of building a network. I always saw that there was a huge UGA network, but that didn’t necessarily include people who look like me. Finally meeting black alumni that look like me, and seeing that there are so many, has really benefitted me and showed me that while everyone may have a different experience, we’re still UGA.

What is the most important experience you learned as a student?

I learned that networking is super important while working with the NAACP. This became evident when I hosted a series of events called “A Call for Consciousness,” which focused on social justice issues. I asked a panelist to come to the event. This panelist later reached out to me with a paid internship offer because she remembered me from organizing the event series and thought I would be a great fit for her internship.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

Don’t put yourself in a box. Be open to opportunities; don’t limit your definition of success to look like everyone else’s. Do what you love and find a way to do that even if it doesn’t appear possible.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

My commitment is building and leveraging the community that is UGA. I can see that we have a strong community, even from miles away in Washington, D.C., so I’m committed to building and growing our community.

 

Meet Ericka Davis, Member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences, and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Ericka Davis (AB ’93) is a member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the University of Georgia.

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated in 1993 with an English degree and got my first real job working for the Georgia Department of Human Resource as a service coordinator. From there, I transferred to the Foster Care program and started graduate school at Southern Polytechnic State University (now Kennesaw State University). This led to my first job and leadership role in communications with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). After six years with DJJ, I became the Director of Communications for the Georgia Building Authority, State Properties Commission and Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, simultaneously under the State Property Officer. From there I served as Division Director of Communications for the Georgia Department of Transportation, then on to serve as the Director of Communications for Fulton County for five years until I landed my current role as Communications and Media Relations Director for the Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

How did you get involved with the UGA Alumni Association?

I have been actively recruiting students to UGA with another alumnus, Randy Groomes (BBA ’92, MBA ’11), since graduation. I saw the opportunity to serve on the Black Alumni Leadership Council as a more formal way to continue to work with fellow graduates. I have also been a donor for some time.

Which Black Alumni Affinity Group event are you most proud of?

I’m always proud of the council’s work to engage minority students, especially when we celebrate accepted students at the annual reception in Atlanta. I am also a huge fan of our Black Alumni Homecoming. The success has been amazing and it is a strong reminder of the close knit family we are.

How has serving on the black alumni leadership council benefited you?

It has allowed me the opportunity to meet alumni that I didn’t know previously, and share our collective passion for the university, diversity and inclusion among the student body, faculty and staff. It’s redefined for me just what it means to be a part of Bulldog Nation.

Photo provided by Ericka Davis (AB '93)

What is the most important thing you learned as a student?

Wow, that’s tough because I learned so much. I would have to say that my experience as a summer orientation leader was the most important experience. That experience gave me confidence that I did not have before. You can’t be shy or an introvert representing UGA, giving tours daily and speaking about UGA to parents and thousands of incoming freshmen. You have to know and love UGA to be successful. That was a huge confidence builder for a 20-year-old about to go out into the world.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

Embrace every opportunity to both learn and lead at UGA, and get job experience while you are there. Many students are enjoying the college experience, but they aren’t taking full advantage of it so that they can build a resume, body of work and talent while they are matriculating.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

My commitment as an alumna and proud member of the Black Alumni Leadership Council is to recruit African American students, faculty and staff to the university, to retain and support students to completion of degree programs, to engage current students and alumni through mentoring and professional development, to donate and encourage other alumni to do so, and to serve as a UGA ambassador in the community. GO DAWGS!

Sister, Sister

Hailing from Lilburn, Georgia, Lauren (AB ’04, JD ’07) and Jennifer (ABJ ’08) Bellamy have been making a difference ever since they stepped foot on the University of Georgia campus. These dynamic sisters are full of Bulldog pride and have a wealth of memories together and separately from their time at Georgia. As senior counsel at Gordon & Rees LLP, Lauren specializes in handling cases involving contracts, business torts, telecommunications litigation, consumer fraud actions, entertainment disputes and employment law.

Jennifer chose to follow a different career path than her older sister. Her passion for journalism led her to pursue a career in broadcast news. You can catch her reporting the news on 11Alive (WXIA-TV) in Atlanta.

UGA Black Alumni marketing and communications committee member Ivey McCloud (BBA ’04) sat down with the two sisters and talked about their UGA experience.

McCloud: What made you decide to attend the University of Georgia?

Lauren: My parents made me! Seriously, HOPE Scholarship made UGA really competitive to get into and it made financial sense. My parents convinced me this was the right decision for me and they were right!

Jennifer: I chose to attend UGA because I was interested in a career in journalism and the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication has a wonderful reputation. I also had a good idea of what UGA had to offer outside of academics thanks to visiting campus to spend time with my sister. 

McCloud: What activities or organizations were you involved in on campus?

Lauren: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., National Pan-Hellenic Council, University Judiciary, resident assistant, and C.L.A.S.S. (Continuing the Legacy of African American Student Success) advocate

Jennifer: Resident assistant and C.L.A.S.S. advocate at Russell Hall, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., National Pan Hellenic Council, Grady Ambassadors, Abeneefoo Kou Honor Society, Homecoming Court 2007 and National Society of Black Journalists 

McCloud: What was the biggest impact you made on campus at UGA?

Lauren: I would say being a C.L.A.S.S. advocate was my most impactful experience. I was able to mentor freshmen in my dorms and hopefully impact a lot of students in a positive way.

Jennifer: I think working in a freshman dorm allowed me to impact the lives of a number of our university’s newest students. I hope I was able to help give them an introduction to life on campus, help them learn to solve problems on their own, encourage them and knowledge share with them about activities and courses.

McCloud: What was it like attending the same school as your sister? What types of obstacles, if any, did you have to overcome?

Jennifer: Attending UGA with my sister was awesome! Lauren started her first year of law school when I started my freshman year.  She was very involved on campus so I did get the “Lauren’s little sister” thing from time-to-time when I first came to Athens, but I think I was able to make my own way as well. Lauren was always there when I needed her and I was able to be there to support her as well. I think it helped strengthen our relationship even more. She’s my best friend!

McCloud: How do you feel your relationship with your sister has developed given that you and your sister attended the same college?

Lauren: It’s really great because we have so much in common that other people may not share. We pledged the same sorority, and Jennifer did a lot of the same activities that I did in college, so we have a lot of shared experiences.  Now, we often go back for events in our sorority together, we go back for football games and we always have a partner to go to homecoming with.

 

Meet Tonya Freeman, Fundraising Committee Co-Chair for the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. The council seeks to connect with black alumni and students through shared experiences and to continue building a welcoming and supporting campus community. Tonya Freeman is the fundraising committee co-chair of the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and we recently interviewed her to learn more about her UGA experience and what drives her to stay connected to the University of Georgia.

Tonya Henderson Freeman<br />(AB ’86)</br>

Tonya Freeman

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated in December 1986, and my degree is in statistics. I was already working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so I went back to work at CDC. That is where I’m still working 31 years later!

 

Which Black Alumni Affinity Group event are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of the UGA Black Alumni Brunch and Learn: A Discussion of Finance and Wealth we hosted in April. We invited former UGA football player Mohamed Massaquoi (BS ’08) and UGA professor Kenneth White, Ph.D. to speak about finances and wealth in the black community.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

[The Black Alumni Leadership Council] has helped me express to fellow alumni how important it is to still be a part of UGA. Getting black alumni to understand that it’s important to stay connected to UGA, to give back to UGA, and showing them some of the programs and scholarships for the students is important. I’m actually enjoying the generations that I’ve come in contact with. It’s not just about my generation, it’s about the generations behind us and ahead of us.

Tonya with members of the Black Alumni Leadership Council at the 2016 Black Alumni Scholarship Fundraiser.

What is the most important thing you learned as a student?

How important college is, but also how fun college can be! You’re building relationships that last for a lifetime, and I really feel like anybody that hasn’t had the opportunity to experience college is really missing a great opportunity in life.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

If you need studying habits, always go to the library first! Go to the library before you go back to your dorm. For me, that’s how I made it. I’d always do my homework before going back to the dorm. Another thing I’d say is to never underestimate your networking opportunities; not just with students, but with your professors and staff at UGA.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

My commitment is to give back financially to UGA, to support UGA and to be a good steward for a school that I’m really proud of.

Meet Raymond Phillips, President of the Black Alumni Leadership Council

In October 2015, the UGA Alumni Association launched the UGA Black Alumni Affinity Group, which is led by the Black Alumni Leadership Council. Raymond Phillips (BS ’12) is president of the Black Alumni Leadership Council. In this role, Phillips leads strategy and determines how best to engage graduates and connect them back to the university and its mission. We recently interviewed Phillips to learn more about his UGA experience and what drives him to stay connected to the University of Georgia.

Raymond Phillips<br />(BS ’12) </br>

Raymond Phillips

When did you graduate from UGA and what did you do after college?

I graduated from UGA with a bachelor of science in computer science in 2012, and immediately began working for an IT consulting firm, CTS, in Atlanta. In fall 2016, I returned to UGA to pursue my MBA through Terry College of Business’ Professional MBA program in Buckhead.

How did you get involved with the Alumni Association?

After graduation, I met Realenn Watters, associate director of alumni outreach, for a birthday dinner. While there, I expressed that I wanted to be more involved with the university, particularly, since I was so heavily involved as an undergraduate.  She explained that the UGA Alumni Association had a multicultural steering committee, which was the catalyst for the Black Alumni Leadership Council, and asked if I would like to join. I jumped at the chance, and I am so happy that I did. The work I have done with the UGA Alumni Association has been one of the best things to happen to me.

Which Black Alumni Affinity Group event are you most proud of?

This is the hardest question you could ever ask. I would have to say it was our fundraising event at American Spirit Whiskey. It was a great way to learn how whiskey is made, interact with fellow alumni and university staff, as well as raise funds for the Black Alumni Scholarship Fund. Additionally, it was great to support a business owned by a UGA alumnus.

How has serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council benefited you?

Although I am in my career, I believe that everyone needs a mentor at every stage of life. Serving on the Black Alumni Leadership Council has provided me with mentors that have provided guidance in my personal and professional life. The council has reconnected me to the university and reinforced my love of the University of Georgia, which prompted me to enroll in the Terry Professional MBA program.

Raymond with members of the Black Alumni Leadership Council at the 2017 Atlanta Minority Admitted Student Reception.

What is the most important thing you learned as a student?

The importance of time management! It may be a cliché, but it is true. I had many interests and had a habit of committing to things without thinking twice. I have always gotten through it by managing my time. During undergrad, I used my Google calendar to keep track of where I needed to be, events that I wanted to attend, and tests for which I needed study. It really helped me to stay organized.

What is one piece of advice you would give to UGA students?

Do not be afraid to expose yourself to opportunities that place you outside of your comfort zone. Those opportunities will provide growth and help you identify a passion, or apathy, that you didn’t know you had for something.

UGA is committed to its students and mission as a land and sea grant university. What is your commitment?

My commitment is to support and mentor UGA students in whatever way that I can— I have made monetary donations, sat on panels and served as a mentor. I am involved because I want students to be able to connect with alumni that can provide guidance– something I wish I had as I completed my undergraduate studies.

Alumna Profile: Ivey McCloud (BBA ’04)

Written by Bridgette Burton

Ivey McCloud (BBA ’04) was set on becoming an educator and attending Auburn University, just like her father who played football there. But, when she came to the University of Georgia in eighth grade for a band competition, she fell in love with Athens, and there was no going back. Today, the marketing major works full-time in Atlanta for the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, but still makes time to give back to her alma mater. Recently, she turned her passion for UGA into action by joining the Terry College of Business Young Alumni Board, which is comprised of 60 Terry graduates from across the country who are charged with outreach and engagement to Terry’s young alumni community. Through the Young Alumni Board, she serves on the Undergraduate Support Committee, where she mentors current undergraduate students. Learn more about Ivey below.

Where are you from?
Powder Springs, GA

What made you decide to come to school at the University of Georgia?
My very first visit to UGA was when I was in the eighth grade. I came for a band competition. I remember my band director at the time, Erin (Brodie) Cole, a UGA alumna, gave us a mini tour of the campus and took us to The Grill for dinner. I immediately fell in love with Athens and the campus. I knew UGA was the school for me.

Describe UGA in three words.
Challenging, dynamic, exciting.

What was your most memorable college experience?
My most memorable college experience was becoming a member of the Eta Xi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. in the spring of 2002.

Where do you work and what do you do?
I’m a customer marketing manager at Kimberly-Clark Corporation. I develop the annual marketing strategy for our Scott Shop Towel brand at Walmart and Sam’s Club. In this role, I have been successful at launching several brand extensions and national marketing promotions.

What did you think you would be when you grew up? Do you still have plans to become that?
Growing up, I always knew I would be an educator like my parents. I never waivered from that career decision until I got to UGA and was exposed to other majors and career paths. Through my active participation in campus organizations, such as the Minority Business Student Association, I decided to change my major from primary education to marketing my second semester at UGA.

What advice would you give to graduating seniors and recent graduates?
Be open to taking risks. I had to learn early on to give up on some of the things I thought were in my 10-year life and career plan. You never know where your next adventure may be, so be flexible and willing to go with the flow.

Is there anything else that you would like for me to know?
In November, I participated in Terry’s “Careers in Marketing” alumni panel with two other graduates who work in the field of marketing. It was great to engage with current students and provide them with insights on how to pursue a career in marketing. As part of my continued giving to UGA and the Terry College of Business, I will be featured in the “Terry Excellence Fund” campaign where I explain why I give back to the Terry College of Business. I have been fortunate to work for Fortune 200 companies that have company matching programs, which allow me to essentially double my donation to the university!

UGA Legacies: Bill (AB ’88) and Melonie Thomas (BBA ’86)

Written by Bridgette Burton

With commencement season approaching, UGA Black Alumni is reaching back to tell the stories of graduates who have a legacy at the university. Additional stories will be shared on social media using #UGABlackLegacies.

The Thomas Legacy

A legacy of service to UGA is a hallmark of the Thomas family. Bill Thomas (AB ’88) and his wife Melonie Davis Thomas (BBA ’86) are engaged with the UGA Alumni Association through the Board of Directors and Black Alumni Affinity Group.

Bill, is a native of East Point, Georgia and Melonie is from Daytona Beach, Florida.

Melonie visited campus as a National Merit Scholar, and on a tour with her mother ran into Dean Rusk. Their conversation with him solidified her decision to choose UGA over the University of Florida. Melonie lived in Brumby Hall her freshman year and Bill lived in Russell Hall. The two met as freshman through their mutual friend Lonnie Walls (AB ’03).

“I was supposed to walk to a ‘Jessie Jackson for President’ rally downtown with my friend Lonnie. When I arrived at his room in Russell Hall, he said two others were going too,” Melonie said. “Those two turned out to be Bill and his roommate, Todd Wooten (BS ’87, JD ’91). I wasn’t too happy initially about walking across campus with three guys, and Lonnie was more than willing to send them on their way, but I decided it was fine. Long story short, Jessie didn’t show up and we, along with half of campus, ended up at The Grill talking and laughing. They all walked me back to Brumby. That was the start, and years later Todd was our best man, we still love The Grill and Lonnie is our pastor.”

After graduation, Bill pursued a career in law enforcement. He is a veteran, and has worked as a federal prosecutor and Assistant United States Attorney. Today, he has a boutique law firm, The W.H. Thomas Firm, LLC in Atlanta. He is also a member of the UGA Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Melonie uses her degree from the Terry College of Business as a communications team lead with the Centers for Disease Control. She extends her expertise to not only combat health disparities, but to combat educational inequality as a UGA Black Alumni Leadership Council board member. Through their work with the university, the Thomases strive to create college access opportunities for students of color.

The couple has remained committed to the university since graduation. Bill was instrumental in the creation of what was a DeKalb County Chapter of the UGA Alumni Association, which ultimately inspired him to get involved with the Board of Directors.

“I wanted to see a stronger African American presence in the Alumni Association, and I wanted to make sure that my African American classmates knew of the lifelong benefits that came with being a part of the university,” Bill said.  “I also wanted to make sure that future students and their parents knew that UGA was an option for them when it came time to consider college options.”

As president of the former DeKalb County Chapter, he spearheaded events to raise awareness about UGA among middle and high school students and their parents. They also hosted former U.S. Poet Laureate and alumna Natasha Trethewey (AB ’89)

Bill and Melonie’s history of giving back to UGA goes beyond time and money– their love and affinity for the school extends to their daughter, Erin, who graduated in 2016 with a degree in history and a minor in Arabic.

Erin, Bill and Melonie Thomas

The Thomas family (L-R: Melonie, Erin and Bill) at Ring Ceremony in 2016.

“She was in the first class to live in Delta Hall (UGA’s residency in Washington, D.C.),” Melonie said. “Her last year in Reed, she lived in the same room that Bill lived in for a short while, 33 years earlier.”

They are both passionate about staying connected and giving back to the university, as well as to their communities. Melonie said that she initially only contributed financially to the Terry College of Business, but that when Bill got involved with the DeKalb County Chapter she became inspired to connect parents and students to UGA.

“Go back to your high schools and middle schools and tell other students about the amazing opportunities that UGA has to offer,” Melonie said.  “Talk to them about what it takes to get into and be successful at Georgia.”

L-R: Kevin Aycock, Bill and Melonie Thomas at the 2015 Bulldog 100 Celebration

“Continue to be a part of the university throughout your life and career,” Bill echoed.  “It will provide you great opportunities beyond the few years that you have, or will, spend on campus earning your degree. Give back to the university financially to ensure that it remains a world class institution, and that it can attract and retain deserving students.”

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