A former teacher, guidance counselor and social worker, Eddie Wright has met many young people over the years, but one stands out the most.
“Thomas Pope is at the top of the list,” said Wright, who is the adviser of the Aiken County Branch of the NAACP's Youth Council.
Pope, 18, is the new president of the South Carolina NAACP's Youth & College Division. The Aiken High School graduate was elected to the prestigious position for a two-year term during the South Carolina NAACP's state convention in Charlotte, N.C., in early October.
“Thomas is a magnificent person who is concerned about community issues, state issues and national issues,” Wright said. “He's also an exceptional leader.”
Pope is a freshman at the University of South Carolina, where he is studying to be a civil engineer.
“The NAACP is something that I care for,” he said. “It has helped me so much. It has helped me grow and made me realize what I want to do. The people in the NAACP have encouraged me, and they've given me the passion to want to change society as much as I can.”
Thomas joined the local NAACP branch's Youth Council when he was in the eighth grade and rose steadily through its leadership ranks. He served as assistant secretary, treasurer, first vice president and president.
Pope's goal at the state level is to increase membership in the Youth & College Division.
“I would like to reunite all the youth and college divisions in South Carolina and get them back to being on top of things and aware of the situations that we're facing now,” he said. “A lot of people think that stuff like racial injustice isn't happening, and that's sad because they can find themselves in a bad situation. I don't think of it as a black and white thing; when there is injustice, it is injustice for all of us.”
Pope was a member of the German National Honor Society in high school. He and a friend, Wanya Pridgen, enjoyed success at Future Business Leaders of America state and regional competitions.
Earlier this year, Pope attended the Disney Dreamers Academy at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. He later discussed his experiences there during an appearance on the comedian Steve Harvey's nationally syndicated television talk show.
“Thomas is a serious young man, but he also can be playful and a lot of fun,” said Philip Howell, president of the NAACP's Aiken County Branch. “He's positive, and he's upbeat. He easily steps in and leads when he sees it is necessary.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.