Sure it's cheesy, but LaVon Thomas has literally and figuratively picked himself up by the bootstraps.
Now a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) for the U.S. Department of Energy, where he could ultimately land amongst the president’s senior staff, Thomas was once a troubled young man.
And Thomas can trace his life-changing moment to a few days in Kansas in 1995.
While on the base of Fort Riley as a private in the Army, Thomas despondently crawled atop his bunk with a Bible firmly tucked under one arm and the autobiography of Malcom X in the other.
Thomas, a Bolingbrook resident, took turns reading from the two texts for the next two days, absorbing passages that were equal parts cautionary and inspirational.
"One bad decision led to another," he said, describing his youth. "Messing around with hardheads I got locked up… charged with five felony counts.
"During those couple days, I prayed and prayed. I prayed my way out of that situation. I promised God that I was done with everything, that I would change my ways if I could just have another chance."
Consider his prayers answered.
Given that second chance, Thomas made good on his end of the deal.
After being honorably discharged from the Army, Thomas immediately returned home to Chicago where he swiftly registered for classes at Chicago State University, where his life started to fall in place, he said.
"I had just gotten to the point where I had enough of being young and dumb," Thomas said.
Armed with a renewed zest for life, Thomas embraced the spirit of volunteerism and served in some capacity for several non-profits.
Later, Thomas would become an artistic director at a local theater, where he used experience he gained in the entertainment world by managing a world tour while enlisted in the Army's entertainment division.
"We went across the world and entertained troops. Did 115 shows over four counties and 30 states," he said.
Thomas has been climbing the corporate ladder since.
"LaVon has consistently proven himself to be an asset to the management team combining his education and skills gained as a corporate professional," said Rosalind Robinson, a colleague for the past six years.”
Vigilant to stay on the right track, Thomas started doing research on corporations that offered leadership development training, which led him to the PMF program.
Established in 1977, the PMF is a leadership training program that matches outstanding graduate students with opportunities to perform valuable service to American citizens.
This year, just 850 individuals were selected from a pool of 9,100 applicants to simply be allowed to interview for positions within the program.
Thomas hopes the skills he picks up during this stage of his career could lead to bigger and better things.
“Currently 60 percent of senior staff in federal government are slated to retire in three to five years. PMF is basically looking to fill those leadership positions."
His wife, Zorina, fittingly sums up her husbands abilities with a quote by—who else—Malcom X: "By any means necessary,"
"LaVon will go above and beyond to accomplish goals," she said.