Stephanie Tate | Editor-in-Chief
“A mother knows her children,” exclaimed Toni Thorpe to an alumnus calling to send her well wishes. Thorpe, who is affectionately known as Mama Thorpe, is the program coordinator for the African American Cultural Center (AACC). She has served in this role for the past fifteen years and is officially retiring on December 16, 2016.
Stretching from the corner of Mama Thorpe’s office to the door frame was a bulletin board covered in birthday cards, graduation announcements, four certificates of appreciation and wedding save the date cards. From the fresh pink and green roses on her desk to the phone call from an alumnus that she received before I could even start the interview, it is evident that Mama Thorpe is loved by her children.
Mama Thorpe, a graduate of East Carolina University, had always had her sights set on NC State. Mama Thorpe intended to receive her undergraduate degree from NC State but that dream was deferred when she was denied admission. “When I got the rejection letter from NC State, I really thought my life had ended but it wasn’t my time then,” Mama Thorpe said.
Her journey to NC State was not a direct one but one founded on good relationships and divine intervention. After graduation she found herself working in the treasury department of a corporation when she was alerted to a job opening as the office manager of NC State’s theatre department by a friend. She was initially unsure about whether or not the job was for her but was comforted when she realized that the woman who offered her the position, Sharon Moore, shared a residence hall with her at ECU. This was exactly the push she needed to pursue her dream of being at NC State. “Then I thought, ok God now is my time to come to NC State,” Mama Thorpe said.
Her position as office manager included reserving space in the theatre, advising the theatre student group and more. She then transitioned into being the program coordinator for the theatre. This was the first time that the theatre had a program coordinator.
While working full time she volunteered at what was then the brand new African American Cultural Center. Her favorite event to recall from that time was the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. festivals that took place at the McKimmon Center. The event was a much larger scale than what NC State hosts now. It included a series of booths, performances and students from all around the state of NC were bused in to participate in the events. “I immediately fell in love with the work the Center was doing,” Mama Thorpe said.
It was in 2002 when Mama Thorpe accepted her calling to work at the AACC. As program coordinator for the AACC she helped plan a series of events including Harambee, an annual event bringing together students and faculty at the beginning of the year, Blacks in Wax, Heritage Day and more.
During her time at the AACC she has also served as the advisor for the AYA Ambassadors, which is an ambassador program for the AACC, and PEACE Church, a church on campus. It was at the AACC that she gained the name Mama Thorpe, which she refers to as “my most cherished name.” “That’s such an endearing term, it’s the proverb come to life that ‘I am because you are, you are therefore I am,” she said as tears swelled in her eyes.
Mama Thorpe has also been an integral part of the Nubian Message. She has served on the Student Media Newspaper Advisory Board, which helps pick the new editor every year. She cackled with laughter about the many editors she has had the pleasure of interacting with.
“I have always had a love for African American newspapers, especially at PWIs (predominantly white institutions) because it is important for African American students to see themselves through their own eyes. We’re not a monolithic people, so it’s very important that we express the diversity among us in a profound and professional and authentic manner,” Mama Thorpe said.
While Mama Thorpe has had countless opportunities at NC State, she feels it is time for her to move on. The decision was not an easy one for her but it was reinforced by a quote that said, “The longer you are extraordinary, the more you risk becoming ordinary.” And while she will miss the students most, she felt as though this quote gave her the push she needed to move on.
Her next job? She can’t wait to be an active grandmother and be able to take her grandsons to preschool and play games with them. In her retirement she looks forward to traveling, reading the countless books on her bookshelves and watching every Denzel Washington movie at her disposal.
Mama Thorpe’s time at NC State is nearing its end but her legacy will not. She feels her legacy, one of love and warm heartedness, is a result of God’s intervention. “In a way, I feel that I was destined to be here,” Mama Thorpe said as she finally let the tears she had been holding back fall.