By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — Don Thanars and Brad Dubose both know they were fortunate when they were growing up as young African-American men.
Thanars was one of seven children who grew up in Houston, and was the first in his family to graduate from college. Even though his father could barely read and write, and they lived in the projects, Thanars appreciated what he learned as a young man.
“In our home, my parents instilled a sense of discipline in all the kids and my dad worked three jobs to support the family. It was a great example for me,” Thanars said.
Dubose had a similar story—the first to graduate from college in his family, thanks to parents who worked for 30 years in an Alabama paper manufacturing company, all to ensure he and his three siblings could go to college.
“My parents and grandparents are my heroes,” he said. “I owe whatever success I have to the sacrifices they made to assure I would have the opportunity for a better life.”
Today, the two Slidell businessmen are “paying it forward,” as they lead the Alpha Phi Alpha alumni fraternity in Slidell, a growing African-American organization that is doing more-and-more to set a similar example for young people here.
“Young black males in our community need to see that you can come out of difficult times and still do something excellent with your life,” Thanars said. “It’s still about the choices you make.”
Thanars came to Slidell in 2001 while still with the Marine Corp—in the midst of what would be a 21-year career ending as a lieutenant colonel. He found a small chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha alumni group here and saw great potential in an organization that only had 12 members at the time.
“I had been involved in other Alpha Phi Alpha groups in areas of the country where I was stationed,” Thanars said. “So when I came here, I had fresh ideas and hoped to bring new opportunities to help in the community.”
Thanars was so instrumental in one Alpha group in South Carolina that he directed a Black History program for an entire year that earned a community service award from the NAACP, and got him featured in Jet Magazine. The program called “Coming of Age” challenged fifth grade boys to make good choices and take on community projects.
Dubose had also been in the Alpha Phi Alpha college fraternity at Troy State, but after leaving college with a broadcast degree, was not active with the group until crossing paths with Thanars in Slidell. Since then, however, he has returned to the theme of “love for all mankind,” by being a positive factor in his community.
Thanars jumped right in to the Slidell group in 2001 and immediately helped it grow. He became chapter president and slowly saw the organization add members. Today, the original organization has more than doubled, with 26 members.
The growth is clearly connected to the higher profile Thanars and Dubose are bringing to the group, as they have become involved in a multitude of community activities.
In only the past year, the group has held a voter registration drive; joined the Keep Slidell Beautiful Citywide Cleanup for the twice-a-year events; held a “Brothers Keeper” event that helps alumni or relatives who need work done in their homes; took part in the March for Babies, a division of March of Dimes: held a Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day; gotten active with the East St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity, and also performed random other charitable acts, such as providing food baskets at Christmas and Thanksgiving for needy families.
“You just have to look at the motto of the organization, which is to develop leaders, promote brotherhood and academic excellent, and serve the community,” said current Chapter President Dubose. “That’s what we are trying to be about. It’s about putting a focus on our community.”
Not only is the Slidell chapter getting noticed locally, but the national organization has taken note as well. The group was just named the Outstanding Louisiana District Alumni Chapter, and also named the Southwest Region Alumni Chapter for 2012, encompassing a four state region.
“We like the recognition only because it helps us reach more potential members,” Thanars said. “As we grow in numbers, we can do more in the community.”
But as much as anything else, the two men said the chapter’s focus is very much about young African American men, and helping them see a bright future.
The group has put their money where their mouth is in that regard, holding an annual golf tournament that has raised enough money that their annual scholarships to local high school seniors hit the $10,000 mark this year alone. In 2012, the group gave out seven scholarships ranging in different amounts, all over $1,000 each.
“We’re very proud of the scholarship program since that is really a way we are investing in this community,” Dubose said.
And for both men, it’s a matter of returning to others what they gained growing up.
Thanks to his family encouraging him in high school, Thanars became such a good saxophone player that he got a scholarship to Texas Southern University, where he graduated with a business degree that he hoped would help him manage his music career.
Dubose grew up in a part of Alabama that was still holding on to segregation, making it more important than ever that the adults in his community kept him on the straight and narrow road.
“I was blessed to be raised in a community of relatives and friends who had my best interest in mind, even if I did not understand that at the time,” he said.
Now, through the Alpha Phi Alpha group, Thanars and Dubose are part of an organization in Slidell that primarily focuses on helping young African Americans by setting an example of serving others, and offering scholarships that have grown to a larger total each year.
For more information on the group, contact Chapter President Dubose at firstname.lastname@example.org or Thanars at email@example.com.