From a shack in a small farming community called Sodus, NY, to California pursuing a dream, to living out that dream by performing all over the world, to the dance studio in Esperanza Academy Charter High School, Carlos Thomas has been on a journey. That was the theme that Thomas, a performer and music producer with the show Stomp for 18 years, touched on during his visit to Esperanza Academy on Sept. 12. Thomas shared the story of his journey with Esperanza’s dance, film, and journalism students, along with a message of encouragement.
“The reason I’m here in front of you speaking is because it’s about your passion, it’s about your drive,” Thomas said. “Don’t let anybody ever tell you that you can’t do something that you really want to do.”
Thomas grew up in poverty with his mother and two sisters, but the relentless desire to be a successful performer has taken him far from his humble roots in Sodus. As a senior in high school, Thomas auditioned for the Young Americans show choir group during a performance workshop, but was rejected. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and booked a plane ticket to California to join the group anyway, going behind the back of his mother who thought he was headed off to college.
A student asked how his mother reacted when she found out what he had done. “She stopped sending me money,” Thomas quipped.
Thomas continued performing and even began managing shows, learning the skills he needed to be successful and eventually joining Stomp, the acclaimed Broadway production. He told Esperanza students that they, too, can achieve their goals if they work hard and stay focused.
“I can get choked up talking about it because it’s really true,” Thomas said. “I know you hear it all the time from teachers, ‘Follow your dreams.’”
After sharing his story and fielding several questions from students, Thomas led a brief workshop, teaching the students a three-part Stomp routine. They (mostly) followed Thomas’ rhythms, enjoying themselves. “It was pretty hard,” one student laughed.
Esperanza presented Thomas with a #33 Esperanza Toros jersey, which he wore for a group photo with the students. He also sat for an interview with several journalism majors.
Thomas concluded his visit by watching Esperanza’s dance ensemble perform several pieces, clearly enjoying himself. The students were also thankful that Thomas chose to pause his journeying for a moment to speak with them, and his message clearly resonated.
“Carlos Thomas’ visit was really inspiring!” wrote one 11th grade journalism major and dance ensemble member. “A good take away from this experience was that when you really believe in something and strive for greatness anything can be achieved. His story was really inspiring because it made us realize that even if you don’t have everything growing up you can still achieve your dreams.”
Esperanza is grateful to the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts which helped facilitate Carlos Thomas’ visit. Thomas’ interview with Esperanza Academy’s journalism majors was featured as part of a WPVI-TV “FYI Philly” prime time special on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 7:30 pm. The segment and can be viewed here.