Lithonia, Ga. — a small town with a population of just 2300 that is due east of Atlanta — will host a mayoral election that could elect Tech alumna Cindy Thomas, who graduated in 2008 with a MGT degree that focused on marketing and entrepreneurship.
Thomas’ dream for Lithonia? To not only decrease the poverty rate that currently affects over a third of the population there, but to also make this small town the “jewel of Georgia.”
In order to find out more about her vision, the Technique discussed politics — as well as life — with Thomas.
“My main goal and purpose is to increase the quality of life of all residents of Lithonia,” said Thomas.
“What that means is to grow and develop not just our land and businesses, but also our schools.”
Sometimes it takes a step back to your roots in order to make the next step forward in your career. Thomas found this to be true while winding along the path from an undergraduate Scheller student to local politics.
“I didn’t plan on being a politician,” she said with a laugh. In fact, she prefers the term “public servant.”
Thomas grew up in Lithonia and went to Lithonia schools. She participated in Lithonia’s local girl scout troop, volunteered and shopped in local
At Tech, Thomas continued to show leadership in a plethora of student organizations.
“What I found is that there were certain years when I was very involved with different activities, and there were some that were less. When I have more going on, I’m better at time management. I get more done, and I get it done at a high level,” said Thomas.
The first club she was drawn into by an older friend while she was still a freshman was Gifted Gospel choir. Thomas also participated in the African American Student Union, OMED educational services, and The Society for Black Engineers. She used her graphic design skills to design flyers and posters for many of the African American clubs on campus.
Thomas also continued to volunteer with younger students. In Jumpstart, she tutored elementary school students, and in CIESMC, she mentored high schoolers. As if that was not enough, she also founded the first ever fashion club on campus, Avant Garde.
“When at Tech, you are in a bubble,” laughed Thomas. “It is all about classes, school, tests and clubs as well as personal stuff going on because you are an adult.”
Although the bubble comes with its unique set of pros and cons, Thomas credits Tech for shaping her career and work ethic.
“Tech is a great school because it teaches you how to think quickly, how to analyze … it really just builds you into a hard worker.”
One thing that she wished she had done more of as a student was taking time for herself to reflect or journal, a practice that “keeps you going forward, keeps you centered.”
After receiving her diploma, Thomas was still searching for something to center her, despite her multiple offers, from traveling internationally to working for Google.
“There was a moment where I said, ‘Okay God, I’ve had this great life. I’ve had some great jobs, great opportunities, but I felt like there’s more.’ I asked what my purpose was. I wanted to walk in my purpose, so I started to volunteer downtown in the heart of Lithonia.”
Thomas’s work in Lithonia included helping a friend start up a local art center, which then opened the door to local civic engagement. Since then, she has completed over 2000 volunteer hours in the city all while working as a consultant for Willpower South.
She works on many boards across the city and took it upon herself to learn as much as possible about Lithonia — from history to plans and more.
“What does it take to grow a small city like ours?” Thomas asked. “We are a place that is low income. So how do you grow a city without replacing people who are already here?”
Thomas’s struggle to answer this question is what inspired her to run for public office on the current mayor’s recommendation.
“A lot of times people will go overseas to give and to volunteer,” she said. “However, we have people in our own neighborhood that are in need.
“And what I found in the heart of Lithonia is that we are the last place in the entire DeKalb County that we still have projects. And they haven’t been upgraded in decades. I spend time with people here, and there is a big need.”
Thomas has chosen to focus on the basics: education, job opportunities and mental health. The campaign has combined every part of Lithonia’s small-town culture, as Thomas has talked to everyone from youth to seniors, and from educators to those in the business sector.
“It’s tough,” admitted Thomas, “but I love it. It’s the first thing that I’ve done in my life where I use all of my talents and skills.”
Surprisingly, Thomas refused to acknowledge her competitors for the mayoral race.
“I’ve seen people be cut-throat. I’ve seen people being negative,” Thomas explained.
“We focus more and more and more on positive. We focus on what actually matters to our people.
“You have to stay focused and you have to run the race and compete against yourself. That’s how you make it to the finish line.”
As Thomas reflected on her unexpected path to politics, she offered encouragement to the students of her alma mater.
“The highlights [of my career] are moments like this, where I’m able to connect with someone like you,” Thomas told the Technique. “Someone who is at a school that I went to and is able to share my experiences. I was you, and I’m here now. This is a place I didn’t plan to be. It’s a blessing.”