Theresa Thornton, KWS Class of 1981
A self-described problem solver, with a very creative edge, Theresa Thornton, Kimberton Farms School Class of 1981 is a woman of many passions and our alumni feature this month. Theresa is the CEO of her own Caregiver Encouragement business, Miss Kitty’s Care, and the Co-Founder of the Black Light Projects (BLP) a non-profit organization based in Phoenixville, PA. She is a change maker in her community, and it’s evident she has a huge heart for people. On the day of our chat, she was helping a friend with a flooded basement, which was not surprising to me that she was busy lending a hand. You get the sense right away that Theresa is someone who shows up and who knows how to make a difference.
Black Light Projects
Theresa has a passion for storytelling in all its forms. BLP focuses their work on the documentation of African American history makers, specifically in the Phoenixville area. They use research, data, records and local resources like the Public Library and Historical Society, as well as first hand accounts to piece together these inspiring stories. Her organization, BLP has developed Black History Educational programs for area schools like Phoenixville Area High School and Valley Forge College. These programs ask the tough questions, like “what stories were people told that they harbor such hatred?” The ultimate dream is for this method to serve as a model to inspire other organizations to rise up and become the record keepers and storytellers of the vibrant African American heritage and histories of their own towns and cities.
BLP was established by Jay Winston, Co-Founder and Theresa Thornton, Co-Founder and President. Mourning the loss of Jay’s Best Friend, and Theresa’s Brother, Eric Thornton, these two long-time friends began thinking of ways to honor their loved ones along with the many other achievements of Phoenixville’s African American Community. They put a call out to their friends and family within the community presenting their idea and BLP was born. The name Black Light Projects is derived from this inspired light bulb moment. The light is to highlight the achievements of so many, and also to light the path for future history makers and high achievers.
BLP partners with local organizations like Orion Communities for storefront Black History Exhibits, and other non-profits like Diversity in Action on events like Andre Thornton Day, a free community event held in Andre Thornton Park when BLP held its first ever Legacy award presentations and Senator Andy Dimmiman presented. You can find out more information about this year’s event here.
It should come as no surprise that Theresa herself is a history maker. She happens to be the 1st African American from Phoenixville to graduate from Yale University. She received her BA from Yale in 1985. She became determined to make Yale her choice as a 9th grader when someone asked her where she would go to college. When she said “I don’t know…maybe Yale” and the response was “You’ll never get into Yale,” from that point on, Yale became her only choice!
Theresa attended KFS at a time when the school was looking to diversify. In Theresa’s words, “Kimberton staff who influenced me, Ed Stone – his class on public speaking and his overall kind demeanor still lives on in me, Richard Turner – because he really pushed my overall creativity especially when it came to computer science (which I loved). That in turn gave me a sense of fearlessness when approaching new technology to this day. And Ed Matthews – as my guidance counselor at the time, he was impressed that I wanted to attend Yale and even more impressed that it was the only college to which I wanted to apply. He immediately embraced my decision and helped me apply to Yale’s early admission program.
Attending Kimberton Farms School was not my decision. Kimberton was looking for more diversification. Someone reached out to the late Don Coppedge (a prestigious man in the Phoenixville community who happened to be my mentor). Don contacted my parents and the next thing I knew I was transferring to Kimberton. I did not want to attend because it took me away from all of my friends, it was all white, it didn’t have a marching band and we had to wear dresses! I was not a happy girl. But I met one of my classmates Sally Umble Lipkowitcz. Because Sally’s Mom was a teacher at Kimberton, Sally had come through the entire Waldorf system. She shared insights which helped me understand the “block system” and main lessons, etc. which was completely foreign to me. Unknown to my classmates or anyone at Kimberton, I cried in my room every night when I came home from school my sophomore year. I could not let my Mom know because I didn’t want to disappoint her. But Sally made me feel comfortable in that new, potentially hostile, environment. Sally and I are still great friends to this day.
“One can not erase 400 years of oppression but we can work-now together-to make sure America is home to equity, dignity and justice for everyone.” Curtis Hill
Here are just a few of the stories that BLP has compiled.
Richard J. Coppedge has a fascinating story. As a student at PASD he was the only African American member of the marching band and his talents shone. He felt very much a part of the group and was affectionately called “hot lips.” The American Legion gave him a trumpet and it was an honor for him. Richard was the first African American in Phoenixville to be allowed to play Taps at Veterans services in 1948 during segregation. He fondly remembers being treated respectfully during that time. He later went on to become the first black police officer in Phoenixville but later the condescension of his Chief led to his choice to resign. He was a pioneer in the community that paved the way for others to stand out from the crowd.
Booker T. Barr, Jr. was the first Black Drum Major, in the PAHS Marching Band. His charismatic talents as Featured Twirler and his great determination and talent led him to overcome prejudice on and off the field against his race and sexual preferences to later become the Leader of the Band as a senior.
By placing these kinds of stories at the forefront, BLP is able to welcome new minorities to the area and give them a sense of collective history and hope. They believe that to highlight the accomplishments of those who aren’t the majority fosters a well respected African American community. This is so the next generation can see what’s possible.
Shira Thornton, a member of the board of BLP, mentions that as she grew up before the internet was what it is now and this idea of stories being passed down stuck with her as being so vital. As stories die out and the oral tradition fades, there is a greater need to preserve these precious local histories. In this way, and in so many others, the work BLP is doing is essential.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
How Can We Help?
Black Light Projects is a 501(c) (3) Organization
Volunteers are always welcome. Compiling the stories of History Makers is no easy task. The organization is always in need of volunteers for the following:
- Data Collection
- Setup for Events
- Specialized Services (skills in videography, photography, writing, etc.)
Donations are welcome to create Exhibition items, maintain equipment, and sponsor events.
For more information go to: