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SAVANNAH, Ga. -- He is Georgia-born, Georgia-raised, and a Georgia resident. Now Otha Thornton has taken one of the most pivotal posts in American education.

Last month, Thornton was named the president of the national PTA. He is the first African-American male to hold that position.

"It gives me an opportunity to serve our nation and serve our children," Thornton said.

During the day Thornton works at Fort Stewart Military Base, overseeing battle simulation in the classroom as a private contractor. He holds the PTA position as a side job -- and as a volunteer.

A Morehouse graduate, Thornton spent his first adult chapter in the military, most recent leading the draw-down of forces in Iraq. He was most moved by his work with the Iraqi children.

"Just working with the kids and seeing the lack of resources some of them had," Thornton said, "we were able to bring kids out of the war-torn cities of Iraq, bring them to the base, and give them a safe place every Saturday."

Thornton's foray into education began during his military career, when he showed up at a PTA meeting for his children's school in Fort Meade, Md.

Recalls Thornton, "There were seven people present, and the school had 2000 students."

Thornton took charge and turned seven parents into 400. He has used similar tactics to leave his mark on state PTAs across the country, including Georgia.

As he takes over the national post, he has placed a premium on empowering parents.

"You are who you are because your parents raised you a certain way," Thornton said. "If parents are informed, and you're providing information that they need, nine times out of ten, they're gonna come through for you."

Of course, Thornton is making history as an African-American male at a time when barely half of African-American males graduate high school in four years.

"[That] statistic didn't just happen," he said. "It took a history for it to get there. A lot of people want to negate race, because it can be a very sensitive topic and a very explosive topic, but you have to address those things."

Again, his solutions start with parents: "We reach out to all kids, but you have to take different approaches to different kids -- and that's challenging, but that's what we have to do."

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