Troy University announces keynote speakers for John Lewis Leadership Conference

Published 11:09 am Monday, January 16, 2023

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Troy University announced this weekend that Birmingham businessman and author Larry D. Thornton Sr. and Banks pastor Rev. Darryl Caldwell would be the keynote speakers for the upcoming John Robert Lewis Leadership Conference at the university.

The 20th Annual John Lewis Leadership Conference is presented by Troy University and the City of Troy together and describes itself as seeking to “bring individuals together to promote dialogue that fosters multicultural collaboration to strengthen relationships and empower diverse leaders with the tools to better serve their organizations and communities.”

The 2022 John Lewis Leadership Council will take place Feb. 3-4 on the campus of Troy University. Thornton will give the keynote address during the opening day on Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m. in the Trojan Center Theater. Caldwell will give his keynote address on Feb. 4 at a luncheon at 11:45 a.m. in the Lamar P. Higgins Ballroom on the second floor of the Trojan Center.

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Thornton is the president, CEO and founder of Thornton Enterprises, a Birmingham based McDonald’s restaurant franchise that Thornton founded in 1992. Thornton Enterprises owns and operates seven McDonald’s restaurants in the Birmingham area, generating $17 million in revenue annually with a total of 200 employees. Thornton was the first black owner of a McDonald’s franchise in Birmingham’s history.

Thornton also previously served as an advertising manager for Coca-Cola Bottling Company United for a number of years and currently sits on the board of directors of Coca-Cola United. He also is a member of the board of directors of the Birmingham Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Synovus Bank of Birmingham, the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind and the Freshwater Land Trust. He also previously served as the board chair for the United Negro College Fund and Alabama State University.

Thornton is a Montgomery native that was a part of the first integrated class at Montgomery’s Goodwyn Middle School in 1967. Thornton graduated from Robert E. Lee High School and earned his bachelor’s degree from Alabama State University. Following college, Thornton served as an art teacher at Vestavia Hills High School before moving into a role as a freelance artist and sign painter before landing his advertising job with the Coca-Cola Bottling Company.

In 2019, Thornton published his first book, “Why Not Win?,” and founded the “Why Not Win Foundation,” which he founded with proceeds from the book’s release. The foundation helps to fund scholarships through the United Negro College Fund and Tom Joyner Foundation.

Caldwell is a New Brockton native that graduated from New Brockton High School. Caldwell currently serves as the pastor at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Banks. Caldwell served in the U.S. Army after high school and then received his bachelor’s degree from Wayne University in Michigan. He has served as a pastor since he was 22 years old and was the pastor for Bethlehem Baptist Church for 18 years before coming to Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in 2013.

Caldwell gave the benediction during John Lewis’ memorial services in Troy in 2020, following the passing of the Civil Rights icon. He’s a recipient of the 2014 NAACP Black Business Man of the Year and is currently the owner of C&H Auto Sales in Troy and Daleville. He’s also served on the Pike County Economic Development Board.

Additionally, there will be multiple plenary session speakers on both Friday and Saturday, during the conference. Those speakers will include local pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Dawson, licensed therapist and Troy University alumna Angelene Kendall-Henderson and Troy University alumna and author Dr. Frankie Bell.

Former Congressman and Civil Rights activist, John Lewis, was a Pike County native.

The conference was launched initially in 2002 through the Troy University Leadership Institute and is described as the vision of Troy University trustee and alumnus Lamar P. Higgins. The conference was renamed to honor the life and legacy of Pike County native John Lewis after his passing.

“In our nation and world, leadership is needed today more than ever before,” Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. said. “Developing servant leaders who are equipped to lead change is at the very heart of our mission at Troy University. We are pleased to once again partner with the City of Troy to honor the legacy of leadership of the late Congressman and Troy native through the John Robert Lewis Leadership Conference.”

Troy Mayor Jason Reeves echoed Hawkins’ pride in hosting the event.

“The John R. Lewis Leadership Conference is always one of the best collaborations that the City of Troy and Troy University are able to provide the community and region,” Reeves emphasized. “The city is proud to work to influence future leaders and encourage partnerships, networking opportunities and education for the improvement of our future.”

Lewis was born in Pike County, the son of sharecroppers, and grew up in the Troy area before becoming a Civil Rights activist alongside Martin Luther King Jr. Lewis, who was referred to as “the boy from Troy” by King, was denied admission to Troy University during segregation and went on to attend and graduate from Fisk University and the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Tennessee. In 1989, Troy University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Law degree, and his memorial service was held at Trojan Arena on the campus of Troy University.

Lewis became renowned as a Civil Rights Activist during his life before moving into public government. He served as a congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 until his passing in 2020. He also served as an Atlanta City Councilman for a number of years.

Adult registration for the John Lewis Leadership Conference is $30, while student registration is $10. Those interested in registering for the conference can do so online at, Additional information about the conference is available by contacting Barbara Patterson, at (334) 670-3204 or Sheila Jackson, at 334-670-2283. Patterson can also be reached via E-mail at, and Jackson can be reached via E-mail, at