ou might say Eric Thomas has something to do with LeBron James winning his first NBA championship ring with the Miami Heat last October.
Thomas didn’t make any moves on the court, but before Game 7-and after a string of losses-James saw a YouTube video with the gravelly voiced minister saying: “When you get to the point where all you want to do is be successful as bad you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”
The audio was spliced into images of Heat footage. The team watched it–and never lost again.
The native Detroiter, also known as the Hip Hop Preacher, understands the power of positive speaking-and used it to pick himself up when the odds were against him. A high school dropout who once lived in his car and abandoned houses, Thomas figured out how to achieve. That may be why his story has such an effect on others.
Thomas is working on his Ph.D. at Michigan State University, where he masterminded MSU’s The Advantage Program, which helps academically challenged students. He produced T.G.I.M. (Thank God It’s Monday), a YouTube motivational series with 5 million-plus views. His recent book is called “The Secret to Success,” and he’s traveled the world to deliver his message.
How did you become homeless?
My parents were from the old school, and there were a series of rules that I had to abide by and I did not abide by those rules. I had to be in when the streets lights came on and I chose my own path. I also found out that the person raising me was not my biological father, and so I was angry about that. So along with other challenges, that contributed to some of the choices I made.
What was the extent of your homelessness and how did you overcome it?
Well, I was not in a shelter or anything, but I was sent to stay with other family members. And I would only be there for about two or three weeks. I would stay out all night. I slept in my car for a period of time. I did live in abandoned homes. I joined church and that’s when things began to turn around for me.
Why is your message so special given the plethora of motivational speakers out there today?
My message is special because I am not trying to do it. I’m not saying that others are not authentic, but I’m not in it for the business. This is a mission and a purpose for me. This is who I am. I’ve spent years doing work on YouTube. Everything is free. It is so authentic until it is natural. I was never trying to motivate people. I was merely just telling my story.
What inspired your T.G.I.M. series and how did you get 5 million views?
I think it was the economy. I wanted to encourage people, and I think people started seeing the deterioration of Detroit and they wanted something better. I wanted to re-charge the people.
What evidence do you use to gauge the success of what you do?
My followers. Our followers are amazed that we stay in contact with them. They are shocked that they can pick up the phone and call me or they can SKYPE me. I hear the stories about how their lives have been changed. And we are constantly helping people make connections across the country and those opportunities are intact today.
In your book “The Secrets to Success,” you talk about wanting success as bad as you want to breathe. Do you think that formula works?
There is no doubt about it. When I speak of success, I do not speak of driving a Bentley; I speak of overcoming challenges. I’m talking about desperately wanting to be in my children’s lives. I want to be a successful family man. I’ve been married for 22 years and I want to keep that going. I want my children to experience that. I’m speaking of living in integrity, and that’s the overall message of my book: Doing right and making good choices.