Criminal Justice student earns degree in honor of mother

For Dominque Thomas, his mother was his everything.

“My mom’s name was Carol Thomas,” he said. “My mom was my queen. She was my everything,” he said.

Carol Thomas passed away March 12, 2012, during her son’s sophomore year at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She was 43.

Following her passing, Thomas fought a long, hard journey to earn a college degree, just as his mother always wanted.

He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at UALR’s 2016 spring commencement May 14 at the Jack Stephens Center.

Thomas remembers his mother as a “warrior” who worked hard to give him a good life. While battling sickle cell anemia, Carol Thomas was unable to find work in Little Rock.

She had a brother in Nashville who gave her a good job, so she worked in Nashville and traveled to Little Rock on weekends to be with her son, who lived with an aunt.

Facing tragedy

While he was a senior at North Little Rock High School, Thomas received the worst news imaginable.

“My senior year in high school was when the disease started to take over her body,” he said. “It was like she was getting tired. She was ready to go, so she prepped me. She was always determined. She always gave me a talk. She is one of the reasons why I made it this far, because of how she was and how she raised me.”

So Thomas enrolled at UALR in fall 2011. He didn’t have the typical first-year college experience of living on campus.

Instead, he lived at home, while taking care of his mother who was dying.

During his sophomore year, Thomas’ mother passed away. This was the beginning of what Thomas remembers as the worst point in his life.

“It was very hard because she was the only parent in my life,” Thomas recalled. “I let my grades slip, and I lost a couple scholarships. I just lost focus.”

Regaining focus

The semester following his mother’s death served as a wake-up call for Thomas. Having lost his financial aid, Thomas worked three jobs to pay for college.

Carol Thomas
Carol Thomas

“That was my turnaround to get back on track. I made a 3.2 GPA that semester, so I was very determined not to slack anymore.”

Thomas is grateful for the support he received at UALR to help him get through the loss of his mother and to keep him in school.

“Losing her was very difficult,” he said. “I wanted to drop out. I wanted to give up, but I had a support group who kept me motivated and helped me.”

He is especially thankful to his mentors in the African American Male Initiative, Harvelle Howard and Darryl McGee, and his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers, Michael Sullivan, Jr., Jermaine Marshall, Damien Watson, Donovan Goodwin, Roderick Henderson, Darrius Green, Jr., and Kenneth Jones.

“If I needed any help, they were there,” he said. “They were there when my mom had her funeral. A bunch of members of the group came to her funeral and supported me. When I let my grades slip, they were there for me. They were always my motivators.”

In August 2015, Mia Phillips, communications and special projects coordinator in the Chancellor’s Office, hired Thomas to work as an office assistant with the UALR Green Dot initiative.

“Dominque is hard-working and one of the most dependable students I have ever worked with,” Phillips said. “We have a lot of students who lose parents in the midst of their academic career who never recover from it. He bounced back and is graduating just like his mom wanted him too.”

Thomas has also served as chief justice of the Student Government Association, treasurer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and treasurer of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

He is also a member of the Criminal Justice Society, National Society of Black Engineers, March of Dimes Collegiate Council, Academic and Grievance Integrity Committee, and Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Facing one more hardship

Before graduation, tragedy struck Thomas’ life once more. During the 2015 Christmas break, he was involved in a car crash that left his arm broken, requiring surgery and a metal plate.

“I had to miss class for almost a month,” he said. “I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t going to graduate, but I have some understanding professors.”

To add insult to injury, the crash meant letting go of a beloved connection to his mother.

“The wreck was very heart-breaking, because the car was my mom’s,” he said. “It was my only memory of her.”

Thomas recovered.

This summer, he will tutor incoming UALR freshmen through the Charles W. Donaldson Summer Bridge Academy, a three-week residential program that prepares incoming freshmen for college-level work by eliminating the need for them to take remedial math and English courses.

After graduation, Thomas will pursue his master’s degree in higher education on the college student affairs track at UALR. Eventually, he hopes to earn a doctorate and become a college dean.

“I would love to work with minority students when they come into college and be a mentor to them the same way people at UALR helped me.”

In the end, Thomas hopes his story will help other college students overcome any trials they are facing.

“Everything happens for a reason, and I think my story can help incoming students,” he said. “I always tell new students: Don’t let social groups take control of your life, because you can let your grades drop. I tell my story, because I don’t want them to go down the road I went down.”

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