RIVERVIEW — Strong family ties helped to create a loving and caring heart in Michael Thornton. He grew up in south St. Pete in the Harbordale neighborhood, an area often affiliated with crime and poverty. He did not let his environment determine his outcome, and is now helping to create better futures for at-risk children.
As the first African-American president and chief executive officer of AMIkids, Inc., a nationally-recognized, non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth with 43 local programs in nine states, Thornton is a product of good upbringing.
His parents, Al and Mattie, made sure that he and his siblings stayed involved in activities that would develop leadership skills. He attended Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, played Little League football with the Lakewood, Jr. Spartans, joined the Cub Scouts Pack 294 at Lakewood United Methodist Church, sang with the St. Pete Boys Choir and participated in Alpha Leadership under the late Vyrle Davis.
His leadership skills became evident at Osceola High School where he graduated in 1985.Voted “Most Athletic Male” his senior year, Thornton was captain of the football team, recognized on the Pinellas County First Team-All Conference, First Team All-County and All-Suncoast as a defensive back.
All of the effort his parents put into raising him paid off, for Thornton has recently celebrated one year at the helm of AMIkids, Inc., an organization he’s been with for 28 years.
He began his career as a remedial education instructor, where he interacted with the youth on a daily basis. At the same time, he was volunteering as a tutor at Mt. Zion Progressive when the late pastor Wilkins Garrett, Jr. encouraged him to attend a hiring event at the Pinellas County Urban League.
It went well. Thornton, right out of college, got the job at the Pinellas Marine Institute, a local program of Associated Marine Institutes (AMI). In 2009, AMI renamed itself AMIkids, highlighting the core value of putting kids first and better representing the wide range of services offered, far beyond its origins within a marine-based instruction.
From there, he quickly ascended through the leadership ranks, working for seven programs and serving as an executive director at five of them in three different states. He joined the home office as a regional director and then took on the position as director of human resources and soon after as vice president of support services.
When he became the president and chief operating officer, it allowed him to oversee and guide all operational aspects of the organization. The next step, of course, was president and CEO, a position he’s been excelling in for a year.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead this great organization,” said Thornton. “I intend to continue to focus on providing excellent service to our kids and our customers by adhering to our guiding principles and core values. We are an organization full of passionate individuals who want to ensure our kids find their full potential within.”
Thornton and his wife, Darlene, live in Riverview are happily married with two adult children.
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