Larry Thornton knows the impact one person can have.
Today an artist, author, entrepreneur and founder of the nonprofit Why Not Win Institute, Thornton said he wasn’t always promised the level of success he holds today.
In the late 1960s, Thornton, who is Black, recalls he and his father would do yard work at the homes of white residents. Thornton said they never knew the family’s names and would eat wrapped sandwiches outside the back doors of their homes on lunch.
One day in early high school, Thornton’s English teacher Miss Nichols asked Larry to help do some work at her house. On the day of, Thornton said he remembers being invited in for lunch, to eat with his teacher and her sister.
During their meal, Thornton remembers Miss Nichols bragged about him, talking about the potential she had seen in his academics. She told him she thought he should go to college.
“Nobody had ever used my name and college in the same sentence,” Thornton said.
While Thornton said he remembers joking about the comment with friends afterward, she had encouraged him, he said.
After graduating from Montgomery’s Robert E. Lee High School, Thornton went on to Alexander City State Junior College before graduating with a bachelor’s in commercial art from Alabama State University.
Thornton went on to work for years as advertising manager for Coca-Cola Bottling Company United in Birmingham and started his entrepreneurial career with his first of now seven McDonald’s franchises in 1992.
Thornton recently shared this story with other members of United Way of Central Alabama’s (UWCA) J. Mason Davis Leadership Society, during the group’s annual social at the Birmingham City Club in the Regions Harbert Plaza.
At the end of it all, Thornton urged everyone to be the one person who impacts someone else.
“Assist someone who’s looking but not quite seeing, someone who’s hearing but really not listening,” Thornton said, “someone who is able but not exercising his or her ability.”
The J. Mason Davis Leadership Society is a group of Central Alabama African Americans who contribute $1,000 or more to UWCA annually and come together to champion diversity and opportunity.
J. Mason Davis is a noted civil rights attorney from Birmingham, who worked a variety of cases during the movements of the 1960s, including a lunch counter sit-in in Huntsville, AL. Today, Davis is a champion of education, particularly for Black children and underprivileged children.
Davis has been a near-lifelong supporter of UWCA, stemming from his time giving pennies to what was then known as the Community Chest while he was in elementary school. For more information on the J. Mason Davis Leadership Society, go to https://www.uwca.org/leadership-giving-societies/j-mason-davis-leadership-society.