After talking with Eric Thomas, whose motivational speeches have been viewed on YouTube by 50+ million people, I realized one thing: He isn't just a motivational speaker. Try putting a man who is a best-selling author, a community activist, a Ph.D. student, and minister in one box and you would be missing the breadth of his accomplishments.
We spoke about his latest venture, which may surprise you even more if you thought he was only a motivational speaker as well. He's now the founder and owner of a record label and his debut artist Tobe Nwigwe has been met with palpable fanfare. "We didn't want to just be the face of motivation in terms of my presentations on YouTube. We want to make sure that in every form of motivation we had a presence." Tobe, who has developed a collaborative partnership with Eric in recent years, is certainly making ETA Records' presence known.
In less than three weeks, his two-part video has amassed more than 70,000 views and a flurry of encouraging messages in the often-critical YouTube comments. I noticed a parallel to Eric when talking with Tobe. As Eric isn't just motivational speaker, Tobe isn't just a rapper. His eight-song EP, which he mentioned garnered 5,000 downloads in the first few days, is the artistic manifestation of what he has been spreading in his community's youth for years.
"Edu-tainment," a combination of education and entertainment as you might have deduced, is a phrase that both Eric and Tobe subscribe to and have begun to master. While Eric is based in Detroit and Tobe is based in Houston, they realize adolescents in their respective communities are more responsive to adult advice when it fits into their existing behaviors. So Tobe for instance, wants kids to live with a sense of purpose and the subtle way he is sharing that message is through melodic hooks and lyrical wordplay that most high school students would turn up, as soon as their parents bought them a pair popular Beats headphones.
Tobe doesn't just talk the talk with music. He's also known as the go-to guy when it comes to mobilizing Houston's youth to make a positive impact in the community. As the co-founder and head of a burgeoning nonprofit organization, TeamGini, he and his team have an organizational mission to "make purpose popular."
An appropriate example of this concept is how he led the charge in gathering Drake fans to volunteer four hours of their time in order to earn a ticket to see the Grammy-winning rapper perform live for a private show. As facilitated by another nonprofit called RockCorps, 1,000 volunteers either distributed food to 2,000 lower-income residents, cleaned up a littered trail, or tended to a community garden. 4,000 volunteer hours later, many of Houston's youth realized that giving back to their city may have been just as rewarding as the performance itself. Tobe, who was caught in action on the left, intends to create a movement on this very feeling with his style of music.
It's interesting to know how Eric and Tobe initially connected. Tobe said, "I was crazy enough to call the number that was scrolling across the screen," when he watched one of Eric's first viral videos. After professing his enthusiasm about Eric's message to the woman who answered the phone, he ended the called satisfied that he at least made the attempt to share his passion. An hour later, he received a call from Eric himself and was met with the same, if not more enthusiasm from the man who never seems to run out of energy. "You sound like a young me. You sound like me and my guy when we first started," Tobe remembers Eric saying. Since that pivotal conversation, they kept in touch and combined their efforts when opportunities arose.
The two are equally motivated to inspire and enrich the lives of their younger counterparts. "So many people say that this is a 'hopeless generation.' I've seen a different experience," Eric noted. "Every post I get, every video they send me, every letter I get in the mail, every tweet, ever text inspires me to say, they're getting it. They do want to succeed. And many of them just don't have an example. I can be that example."
Eric and Tobe spend most of their efforts with urban, underprivileged demographics. The pair have seen behavioral trends and have stepped up to the challenge in reaching them. Often times, "this is a generation that would rather be entertained than enlightened. It's necessary to be plugged into social media," Tobe said to support his notion to make positive music that is also culturally relevant. Eric added that television was the main medium in his formative years and he often watched shows like "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World" that provided the edu-tainment mentioned earlier. Eric knows that social media is a natural experience his for intended demographic, so he has developed engaging content online and downloadable audio tracks that can motivate them on their mobile devices.
Though the men have endured very different paths, they are similarly intentional about the legacy they want to create. Eric suffered through homelessness, dropping out of high school, and a host of other tribulations before finding his calling, partly due to the words of past and present civil rights leaders. Their philosophies toward self-actualization is a major reason why his ultimate goal is to extend his impact on a global scale and one day be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to society. Along the same lines, Tobe stated that he wants "to see a generation live up to the full potential of their life. I want to help be a part of that." He intends to make his mark with what he called "life music" and hopefully be awarded with a Grammy of his own one day.