In November 2015, Cedric Norris Jr. was a freshman weeks into his leading role in “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” when he got a call from home.
His granddad had been killed two days before Thanksgiving. “My grandma had told me he’d planned this huge Thanksgiving dinner, bought tables and had a freezer full of food. He wanted the whole family in one room together,” said Norris.
Feeling like he had no where to turn, Norris began writing. The act of journaling became a kind of therapy for him and he began his first self-published book “Black Light Shining” with six simple words.
“Sit down. Shut up. And listen.”
It’s been his mantra for not only himself during his time at Georgia College, but for others he’s come into contact with during his exploration in everything from being a founding father of Alpha Tau Omega to leading campuswide forums on diversity and inclusion.
“I think a large part of why I like to be active in a lot of things is because I’m from such a small town and on top of that, I was a middle child. I had to foster this independence that required me to give much more than everyone else,” said Norris, a liberal studies and philosophy major.
Norris’ fate was tied to Georgia College as early as fifth grade, when he happened to drive past the campus while on a camp trip. A self-proclaimed “doe-eyed” boy from Thomson, Georgia, the sprawling campus and stark white porches left him in awe.
From his first month as a student, Norris hit the ground running. As a student in the Bridge Scholars Program, he garnered support into a freshman senator spot in SGA—a move that would follow him as he has stayed involved with SGA his entire time at Georgia College.
“I’ve always been one to take action. If I felt or saw something that I didn’t agree with, I wanted to know why there wasn’t a better system in place. SGA was the perfect gateway into that,” he said. “If I’m paying thousands and thousands of dollars to attend this institution, then it’s only fair to give back to this community and become extremely aware of what’s going on.”
His inability to sit idly by has projected him into leadership roles across campus. Norris was instrumental in a forum that brought together administration and campus on how to make people of color more comfortable on campus, he lead and created the first FriendsGiving of marginalized groups on campus and he also served as program assistant to the Cultural Center.
“Cedric is wise beyond his years. During my first year as director of the Cultural Center he proved himself an asset by helping me to stay focused on the things that mattered to the students,” said Stacey Milner. “I learned very quickly to not focus or create programs that I felt were important to students - that in order for students to get behind something they had to have buy-in and ownership. So with Cedric's help, I started having conversations with students to see what were programs, events, and activities students wanted.”
Milner said Norris’ ability to be a leader and peer mentor is part of what makes him invaluable to her office, but also to Georgia College. It’s also something Norris sees as an inherent ability in himself—being able to talk to almost anyone about anything.
“I’ve been the black guy in a predominantly white fraternity—I know what that’s like. Instead of talking at people, I know how to talk to them. I’ve also learned not to be mad when people don’t get it the first time. As a person of color, there’s so much that I’ve learned and continue to learn about social inequality. I can’t judge someone for not knowing because I’m still learning myself,” he said. “I use my empathy and good listening skills to advocate for a community on campus that is oftentimes underrepresented.”
Academically, Norris has been able to become a “Renaissance man,” which he said has everything to do with the university’s mission of liberal arts. Norris will graduate in May 2019 and plans to spend his senior year passing the torch on to other minority students that will continue advocacy work on campus. His goal is to one day use his multifaceted skills to become a life coach, helping others find their own path in life.
“If I had gone somewhere else other than Georgia College, I would have been successful in one arena,” he said. “I wouldn’t have become the man that I am today. Georgia College has given me a tailored experience, the ability to be quick on my feet, strategic and a critical thinker—and be witty and have fun with it at the same time.”