Eric Thomas (affectionately known as either ET or the hip-hop preacher) is that rare thing: someone who managed to overcome family problems, poverty, and even homelessness to become one of the most successful leaders in his field. The field in question is motivational speaking: whether its athletes, millionaires, businesspeople, politicians, or just your Average Joe, Thomas has motivated them all. His YouTube channel has made him a household name, while his inspirational biographies (5 down and counting) has made him a millionaire. As someone who himself dropped out of school as a teenager, only to return at a later stage to earn his Ph.D., Thomas has been inspiring millions of at-risk students to stay at school thorough Advantage, the nonprofit he founded while he was still a junior at college. To find out more, keep reading.
1. He had a troubled childhood
Thomas was born in Detroit Michigan to a single, teenage mom. After discovering at 12 years old that the man who had raised him as his own was not, in fact, his father, Thomas’ world was turned upside down. Overnight, he went from a happy kid to a deeply troubled teenager with an equally troubled relationship with his family. “I went to school angry,” he says. “I was on the block angry, and because of that anger, I made some really crazy decisions. I just want to catch every 12 or 13-year-old and say it’s okay that your old dude wasn’t in your life.”
2. He was homeless as a teenager
After discovering the truth about his family, Thomas began getting into serious arguments with his mother, aunts, stepfather and anyone else who happened to cross his path. Eventually, his home life became too much to bear, leading Thomas to drop out of school and, for want of anywhere else to go, living homeless on the streets of Detroit for almost 2 years.
3. A preacher changed his life
It was while living on the streets that Thomas met a preacher that changed his life for good. “He really just spoke life into me at a time when I was lost,” Thomas said. “He told me I had an untapped gift that if tapped into, would save lives!” The preacher’s advise motived Thomas to go back to school, earn his GED, and eventually enroll at Oakwood University. After 12 years of study, Thomas graduated from Oakwood in 2001.
4. He earned his Masters at Michigan State University
After graduating from Oakwood, Thomas took a fellowship at Michigan State University to complete his masters in K-12 Administration with an emphasis in Educational Leadership. While at Michigan, he continued to focus on mentoring and inspiring others, focusing largely on helping high-risk, minority students stay on track with their studies. In 2005, Thomas graduated from Michigan with his Masters but continued to study for his Ph.D. at the University until 2015.
5. He’s a committed family man
Although Thomas is always keen to draw from his own life experiences if he thinks it will help others, he’s less eager to discuss the exact details of his personal life and family situation. What we do know is that he’s been married for 24 years (he began dating his wife, De-De Mosley, back in 1991, after the pair met at the Detroit Centre Seventh Day Adventist Church) and is a devoted dad to two children, Jalin and Jada.
6. He founded a non-profit as a college junior
Thomas was doing his thing long before the internet turned him into an international sensation. As Detroit reeled in the wake of its keys industries suffering economic meltdowns (GM, Ford and Chrysler all being amongst the most badly hit), Thomas was trying to inspire drug dealers and single-parent mothers to continue their educations and find a way out of the financial crisis. To further his aims, he founded a non-profit organization, Advantage, while still a junior in college, and began touring universities as part of his efforts to inspire and motivate the younger generation to complete their education and get ahead.
7. YouTube turned him into a sensation
During one of Thomas’ speeches at Michigan State University, he uttered the memorable line “When you want to succeed as bad as you wanna breathe then you will be successful.” Pretty powerful stuff, no doubt, but what came next was even better. A tech-savvy student decided to record the speech, overlay it to a video of former East Carolina running back Giavanni Ruffin working out, and then upload the result to YouTube. The video went viral, quickly amassing more than 6 million views, and turning Thomas into an overnight star.
8. His first major clients were athletes
After YouTube got the word out about Thomas, he quickly began picking up clients. The majority of his first customers were athletes (inspired, no doubt, by the sporty overtones of his YouTube videos). One of his first gigs was speaking to the high school All-Americans at the 2012 Jordan Brand Classic, swiftly followed by the Harvard University and the Toronto Blue Jays minor league affiliate.
9. LeBron James is a fan
As we’ve seen, athletes have always formed a key part of Thomas’ clientele, but it’s not just high school athletes and college football players that have turned to him for advice. Some of the athletes Thomas has coached have been some of the biggest names in the business, and all are eager to sing his praises. As Slam notes, Le Bron James has credited him for inspiring his win at the 2012 NBA Championship, while both Austin Daye and Jonas Jerebko have both called him the best motivational speaker there is.
10. He likes to engage with his audience
As anyone who’s attended a speech by ET will know, he doesn’t just lecture his audience, he engages with them. Whenever he works with a group, he’ll follow a set format whereby he spends the first 30-40 minutes teaching, and the remainder of the time in dialogue with the group, giving them plenty of opportunities to ask questions and really get to grips with Thomas’ message. “You only retain so much in lecture form. When there is dialogue, humans tend to retain more information,” Thomas tells Slam.
11. He’s not in it for the business
He may sit at the head of a million-dollar empire, but according to ET, he’s never been interested in the business side of things. “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,” he told Blac. “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.”
12. He’s featured on rap albums
If you’re a fan of ET’s inspirational message, you don’t have to limit yourself to his YouTube videos. Thomas’ influence in contemporary culture is profound enough to have reached some unlikely sources. Listen to the intro to Disclosure’s 2013 debut album, Settle, R&B artist Foster’s track “Hard Times”, or the intro track to Meek Mill’s 2017 “Wins and Losses “album, and you’ll be able to hear various portions of ET’s sermons as many times as you like.
13. He’s written five books
YouTube may have done a fine job of bringing ET’s work to the masses, but there’s still something to be said for the good old-fashioned medium of the written word. So far, ET has published 5 books: the first, The Secret to Success, was published in 2012, and gave the reader an introduction to ET’s life and message. He followed up the success of his debut with Greatness Is Upon You: Laying the Foundation (2014), swiftly followed by GIUY: Abandoning Average and Seizing Greatness (Greatness Is Upon You Book 2) (2014), and Greatness Is Upon You: How Sacrifice and Humility Positioned Me for Greatness (2014).
14. He gauges his success by his followers
While it would be easy for ET to gauge his success on the number of books he’d shifted, the number of YouTube views he’d racked up, or the number of dollars in his bank account, he goes by a very different system of judging his success. “My followers (are how I gauge success),” he told Blac. “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.”
15. Overcoming obstacles is how he measures success
ET’s prevailing message since he started as a motivational speaker has been that the secret to success is wanting it as badly as you want to breathe. “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,” he says. “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”.
16. His philosophy relies on 5 keys tenants
Although ET likes to tailor his message according to his audience, there are five key tenants that underpin his philosophy. The first is to remember that you are on borrowed time: “You’re like milk. You have an expiration date on you. You better drink it now and drink it quickly or it’s going to spoil”. The second tenant revolves around the idea of seizing every opportunity that’s handed to you, while the third is working out what your competitive edge is, and what you have that no one else does. Fourthly, he asks you to remember that you are on trial – that you need to continue to prove yourself and should never become complacent. Finally, you’ve got to want success as bad as you breathe. Do all five, and the world is your oyster.
17. He has his own YouTube channel
Ever since a university student first posted Thomas’ pearly words of wisdom to YouTube, he hasn’t been able to resist keeping the platform flooded with his motivational titbits. He’s even developed his own dedicated YouTube channel, “etthehiphoppreacher” and YouTube series, Thank God it’s Monday, that aims to educate, inform and motivate people about what they can do to make their lives happier and more successful.
18. He’s worth $2.5 million
According to Celeb Net Worth Today, Thomas is now worth an estimated $2.5 million. The major source of his wealth (around $61,000 to $122,000 annually) continues to be his YouTube videos, which rank amongst the most viewed on the site. He’s also pulled in a healthy amount of profit from his five motivational books, while his annual salary as a motivational speaker allows him to add around $400,000 to his bank balance each year.
19. He does voice-overs on ESPN advertisements
Thanks to his long-standing association with sports and athletics, Thomas has frequently been invited to provide voice-overs on ESPN advertisements for both Major League Baseball and the NFL. He’s also a regular attraction on FOX News, where he’s frequently invited to appear to motivate and inspire viewers.
It’s not just Youtube that Thomas is a star of: over the past few years, he’s grabbed onto the power of social media for all he’s worth, and now has millions of followers regularly tuning in to his Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter updates.