"Changing the World by Saving the Music with Trell Thomas.”
Trell serves as the Director of Communications and Talent Relations. In addition to working with artists/talent, record labels, publicists and managers, Trell oversees all branding for the Foundation, including press, digital and cause marketing related communications. He has more than 7 years experience across the arts, TV, music, technology, media. charity and the public sector, working with recognized brands and clients.
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Episode 5 Saving the Music with Trell Thomas
Written by: Sope Aluko
how was your childhood and what was growing up was like for you?
Trell: I’m from a very small town in South Carolina called Cassatt. Nobody’s ever heard of it and we have like one stoplight. If my parents were to describe me, they would say that I was a very curious, overly helpful and ambitious child. I can remember being small and going to the grocery store and I’d ask my mom for two quarters because there was a gum machine. The gum only cost a quarter, but she told me that she would catch me giving a random kid in the store another quarter. She told me, “That’s when I felt like you were kind of different.” I think that that passion for helping others followed me throughout my life. I grew up watching the local news because the news was on as we were getting ready for school. The news anchor told us how we should dress, where we should go, and where we should not go. That’s where we got all of our information from. I remember there was a moment where I was like, “You know what? I’m going to change the world and I’m going to do it by being that guy. I’m going to be on TV and I’m going to tell people how they can live their best life.” In elementary and middle school, I would always write stories and tell people stories. A teacher stopped me and was like, “Hey, you need to look into broadcast journalism.” I had no idea what that was and she explained it to me. I went to college mainly because my dad told me that I was going to apply to college or join the Army and there was no way I was going to the army. I applied to some schools and I got into Winthrop University in Rockhill, South Carolina. Most people know because we are often the Cinderella team in NCAA Champsionship. I went for Broadcast Journalism and interned at NBCUniversal, which is the NBC Headquarters in Charlotte. I began to learn more and more about the news industry from the inside. I stayed there after my internship was over...I just kept showing up, the position opened up and they hired me. I started working as a broadcast feed producer where if a story was happening in Nebraska and a news station in New York wanted the story, I would feed it over the wire to New York. I’d get the tape from the station in Nebraska, record the part that New York wanted, put it in a separate tape, and feed that tape and send it to New York. I learned more and more about the news and learned it was very top down- the news director told people what they were going to put out and it felt very contrived and things were sensationalized. Being an adult and seeing all the things going on in the world now, my inclination was right.
How much of the news is propaganda and how much is reality?
Trell: I think it depends on whose agenda it is at the time. It’s definitely political in the sense that if you’re liked more or if someone owes you a favor. The thing that really bothered me is that I felt like there were stories that weren’t being told that people needed to know. I was like, “Maybe being the next Ed Bradley is not necessarily what I wanted to do or this path that I want to take. I was following in my mind the Oprah path. She was a reporter and the she was an anchor and I was like I have to do that type of thing. Someone actually told me that your journey is your journey. Don’t try to make someone else’s journey your journey. I can write my own story. I stayed at NBC but my mind was open. I remember one day a friend texted me and was like, “Hey, I got a job on the Obama campaign in Atlanta, Georgia but I’m not going to take it.” We were in the South where nobody thought that having a Black man as president was even possible. Atlanta,Georgia has its own series of issues...people just didn’t see it. I’m in a fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, and we got a chance to step for him during the primaries when he came through Rockhill, South Carolina. After that, we stayed and they said we could meet him and I was captivated and hanging on the edge of my seat by every word he said. When the passion and the genuineness is there, you can’t fake that...I saw it. I felt like I had known him all my life. He was so gracious and kind and I remember telling one of my fraternity brothers, “Whatever I need to do to get this man elected, I will do.” When my friend told me he got this offer, I said I’ll take it. There was another guy we went to school with so I texted him and he sent my resume to the field director on the Obama campaign.
Talk about the mission of VH1’s “Save the Music” and how your role plays into that.
Trell: We restore instrumental music education into public schools. We go into schools with dormant or nonexistent music programs and we put these programs back into place. What that does is it helps students, parents, community fulfill their potential of success. That’s the mission of the foundation and we’ve been doing that since 1997. We’re at our 20th anniversary this year. As the Director of Talent Relations and Communications, I book all the talent for everything that we do. From social media takeovers to actually performing at our benefit galas and events we have across the country. From the communications point of view, I manage the PR team, the social media team, and our marketing.
If you had a Mount Rushmore of Inspiration, who would you say inspires you?
Trell: I have to start at home. I have to say my parents. My parents taught me perserverance, resourcefulness, and all of these pillars that have allowed me to navigate life. I didn’t realize that’s what it was. I didn’t realize my dad letting me fall off my bike, cry, and not picking me up and instead posing a question of “Hey what are you going to do from here? Are you going to get back on?” I didn’t realize then he was teaching me to perserve through. We weren’t the richest and I remember a time when our lights would be cut off. My mom would go get the candles and light them and it taught me to be resourceful. We didn’t have hot water so we have to boil on the stove. There’s something that you gain in loss. I would say President Barack Obama is one of the most inspirational people. I don’t even have to go into it because everybody knows. I am inspired by God as the higher power that moves everything. It’s the thing that keeps me going. It gives me courage and allows me to be bold when I am afraid. He allows me to have hope when everything else says “Nah.”
What would you say is your passion and when did you know?
Trell: My passion overall is helping people on a large scale-mentally, physically, financially. Helping people realize that they too can shine. It feels like destiny. It feels right. There’s a peace and understanding about it. There’s a gratefulness that you feel because I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I feel what I’m doing is very self-serving. I’m not worried about a paycheck and I’m not worried about being able to flaunt something or say I do this. I’m helping people become better and helping people help themselves. It just feels good.
What has been your biggest challenge in trying to fulfill that purpose?
Trell: When you are a bright light in any place, there are people that are intimidated by that and jealous of that. They want to find ways to stifle you. There are moments when you know you are doing a good thing but there are people that don’t like that and they will try to stop you from doing it. Put on your sunglasses because I’m still going to shine. Dealing with it came with knowing my worth. Knowing that I am valuable beyond measure. Valuable beyond any comment or jab. If you are secure in who you are and what you bring to the table, all the other stuff will be noise. Sometimes it will be loud noise, but you just have to tell yourself what your there for and what you bring to the table. What role do they have in it? I have a lot of internal conversations with myself.
What separates people who have found a way to live their dream from those who haven’t?
Trell: Courage. Courage to me is meeting fear with bravery. The fear is there but you are brave enough to keep going. It is the thing that seperates you. A lot of people are afraid and they talk themselves out of it or they’re insecure about it. Confidence is a part of courage, too. A lot of people talk themselves down or let someone else talk them out of it. It’s not about not having fear. It’s about what you meet that fair with and not allowing it to consume you. Acknowledge it and set it aside.
What inspires you to succeed?
Trell: Since I was a child, I have known that my purpose is big and I’ve carried that. My parents, teachers and people who don’t even really know me have said, “There’s something about you.” I have a responsibility. We all have a responsibilty to find what [that purpose] is and follow it through. I at least know pieces of my purpose, and I have a responsibility to fulfill that. It’s not small and I can’t fulfill it by playing small.
Readers are leaders. If there was one book that really changed your life, what would it be?
Trell: I love blogs because I love people’s personal stories. I would read 50 blogs a day. A book that really changed my life was “The Shack” and “The Alchemist”. It was such a personal journey I went through while reading them. It’s one thing to read something say, “Oh that’s deep.” but it’s another thing when it makes you go on a self journey.
How can millenials make a change or take action more than just social media?
Trell: When all of these things started happening, even before the riots, there was a heaviness. I would beat myself up thinking “What can I do?” Even as an expert, you end up in a place you end up in a place where its like, ‘What do I do?” I think we have to start where we are. For me, it’s “What can I do to make this world a kinder place?” Just put love and kindness out and by doing that you start to build a community of kind people and people that understand you a little bit more. From that community is how we really make change.We can continue upon that. It seems daunting starting where you are and building a community of people who believe that fundamental rights are fundamental rights. It’s about building that community and using that community to affect change. You see these communities being built and you have to continue to nurture that and not step back and say, “This is too big for me.” There’s a role for every single person. Sometimes that roles is being where you are and fighting courageously where you are. If you are the victim of something that is happening that is not fair or not right, you have the obligation to speak up and be the person that changes things. There was a moment when Kaepernick said, “Nah.” Rosa Parks said, “Nah.” What’s your “Nah.” moment? Those two movements were just people starting where they are and look what it sparked. We all have a moment where we can put our foot down.
What advice would you give to young people in the ShineHard community that want to shine in PR? What’s the mindset?
Trell: I think that you have to be relentless. You have to know what you want and go for it. That means sitting down and going for the top things that you want to get out of a situation, job, or project. When you find one or two things you really want, go after that nonstop. Say it everyday. Before I moved to New York to really pursue PR, I lived in D.C. and I had these Post-It notes and I wrote all of these notes to myself and I put them on my ceiling, my wall, my mirror in my bathroom, and my doorknobs. Everywhere I went, I was reminded. It was what I needed in order to be relentless in my pursuit of my next step. I was like, “I want to work at PR agency with clients.” That was my goal and I wanted to do that in New York City. Because I was an Obama 08 alumni, I started working on the inauguration in 2012 and I was doing the PR for the inauguration. A friend of mine who I worked with on the Obama campaign in 2008 was living in New York City, came down and was picking up her tickets and she said, “You should move to New York to do PR. New York needs you.” She introduced me to some people within two weeks of me putting up those Post-It notes. I started telling everyone I’m moving to New York. If you start telling people you’re doing a thing, you better do it because they’ll start asking you. It made me accountable. She introduced me to people at the agency and they said, “We like him. Let’s find a role for him.” I moved without the job on faith.
Interested in learning more or connecting with Trell?