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THRUST '80: CELEBRATING 40 YEARS (1980-2020) OF FRIENDSHIP, BROTHERHOOD, AND FINDING OUR ROOTS AGAIN IN OUR HOMELAND

Back Row-L-R: Harrison Yaidoo, Caesar Gardiner, Joshua Howard, and Taofiq Raymond
Second Row-L-R: Stephen Weeks, John Victor (late), Farmere Stubblefield (late), Kante Roberts, and Jenkins Cooper
Front Row-L-R: Gus Major (late), Julius Gooding, Joseph Gbaba, Maurice Banks (late), Edwin Kai, and Stephen Doe


Dedicated to Maurice Banks, Charles Gbenyon, Nat Kumeh, Gus Major, Farmere Stubblefield, and John Victor

Forty years ago, we were all young men, students at the University of Liberia, when our typical student life of study, play and fun suddenly came crashing down on April 12th, 1980. A group of enlisted soldiers staged a bloody military coup and, in one swell swoop, completely shattered the peace and stability, however fragile, which Liberia, Africa's oldest republic, had enjoyed for more than a century.

Our response was to organize ourselves into a group, known as Thrust '80, to help address some of the societal ills, including poverty and social inequality, which had in part led to the coup. But not too long after we had all left the halls of the University, Liberia was again rocked by violence, as opponents of the military leaders attempted an abortive coup on November 12, 1985.

This time, the violence reached directly into the ranks of Thrust '80, as one of our founding members, Charles Gbenyon, a prominent and award-winning television news reporter, and anchor, was falsely accused of complicity in the abortive coup attempt and brutally murdered.

The apparent return to normalcy in the country after the bloody suppression of the 1985 coup attempt would be short-lived. Four years later, on Christmas' eve, 1989, an insurgency led by Charles Taylor, would spark one of Africa's deadliest civil wars. This time again the resulting carnage would directly affect the ranks of Thrust '80, as a marauding band of soldiers took the life of Nat Kumeh, a founding Thrust '80 member.

As Liberia degenerated into a cauldron of senseless killing and anarchy, the overwhelming majority of Thrusters (as Thrust '80 members like to call themselves) was forced to join the hundreds of thousands of their fellow Liberians who fled the country and sought refuge in foreign lands. Many of them settled in the United States beginning in the early 1990's. Today, they are spread out across different states, from California and Connecticut to Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia, where they and their spouses (most of whom they met at the University of Liberia as students) lead professional lives as scientists, educators, engineers, lawyers, business executives, and IT specialists.

Over the last 12 years, our ranks were rocked again by the untimely passing of founding members, John Victor (2009), Gus Major (2013), Maurice Banks (2016), and Farmere Stubblefield (2021). They all died young, but the fond memories we have shared over the years will remain with us forever. We are dedicating our 40-year anniversary in their honor, to celebrate the good lives they lived, the imprints they left on their communities and country, and the love they shared with their families and friends. They will always have a special place in our hearts and in the annals of Thrust ’80.

For us left behind, we are now showing all the signs of old age—balding and gray with bulging girths, and children entering or leaving college, grand children going to high school—but are still focused on giving back to our native country, particularly our beloved University of Liberia, that gave us the education that has helped us succeed professionally as we all generally have in the United States, Liberia and around the world.

We have engaged in a few social and humanitarian projects over the years, beginning in 1980, when we raised over $1,000.oo to support some basic needs and food items for the Deaf and Dumb School, the Group of 77, and the Refuge Home on Newport Street.

In December 2010, when most of us had migrated to the US, we teamed up with our colleagues and fellow Alumni who once sang in the world-renowned Chorus of the University of Liberia. The former Chorus members, many of whom also fled the Liberian Civil War and now live in the United States, have over the last several years reconstituted themselves into the University of Liberia Alumni Chorus (ULAC). Thrust '80, ULAC and other distinguished "Liberian Performers” joined forces to stage an "Evening of Christmas Entertainment", a family event designed to further unite the Liberian community.

This event also generated financial support for a scholarship fund that Thrust'80 members have established for students at the University of Liberia. Supported by personal donations from Thrust '80 members, the fund provided full four-year scholarships for five students at the University over the last 10 years. While at the time, the scholarship fund honored the first two Thrust ’80 members taken from our rolls, Charles Gbenyon and Nat Kumeh, it will now honor all Thrust ’80 members who have died while serving this organization, including John Victor, Gus Major, Maurice Banks and Farmere Stubblefield.

Recently, in 2020 as we celebrated our 40th Anniversary, Thrust ’80 launched a new project to help needed Liberians cope with the challenges of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Thrust ’80 made a conscious effort to reach out to several institutions in Monrovia and its environs that resonated with the desire to help those most vulnerable, including the elderly, women and children. Six institutions were identified for Thrust ‘80’s assistance. To date, we have made donations to the first three that were most in need of essentials—food, cleaning materials, utensils, and other everyday items. Donations will be made to the final three by the end of April 2021.

The Antoinette Tubman Cheshire home on 10th street: This institution was established in 1985. The Supervisor, Ms. Massa T. Perry, was most welcoming, and it was evident that she cared very much for all occupants of the facility. Thrust ‘80 met their needs with some basic supplies and food stuff, including rice, oil, sugar, salt, and also provided cash to help them procure other essential commodities.

The Old Folks Refuge Home: This place of refuge was established in 1951 by the Evangelists Women Workers of Liberia, Inc. It is supervised by Mr. Albert D. Scott, with a total of 9 residents. Thrust ’80 provided basic supplies, rice, and cash for other essential needs of the senior citizens who reside there.

The Hope in Christ Orphanage Mission in Careysbury: This orphanage is supervised by a highly trained and loving lady, Ms. Edith Zayzay. It has 56 students. We donated basic supplies, rice and provided funds for other subsistence needs of this institution and the kids that are cared for there.

Shelter for Fire Victims: Thrust ’80 also provided funds to victims of a fire disaster in Lakpazee that left them homeless. We quickly provided funds to help replace the roof of the house and ensure that the victims could quickly return to the home and have some shelter from the ever-present rainy season in Liberia.

As we celebrate 40 years of friendship and service, we must reflect on our humble beginnings and how much each of us has been given by God over three decades. We must continue to give back to our country. Liberia needs us to remember her. It is not about position, glory, wealth and recognition, but about helping our people live better lives and meet the challenges of everyday life. We must now elevate our support by also developing and helping Liberians to develop and implement projects to help make education and health care affordable and accessible to Liberians; to engage Liberians on the benefits of agriculture—productive society; to help create an environment for positive social and economic change in our country. Over the next 10 years, we must reposition Thrust ’80 to become a catalyst for sustainable development in Liberia.

We are thankful for the opportunity given for us to celebrate 40 years together. We hope that this historical event in our organization’s history will motivate us to work harder to achieve our goals for Liberia. We hope that it will also help us to cement our friendship forever and allow us to pass on our special brand of camaraderie and service to the next generation--our sons and grandsons. We must teach our children the true meaning of friendship and about giving to others even when they do not have much to give. We must teach them about loyalty, not only to the ideals they hold dear, but to all of society in helping to shape a better world.

A year ago, February 4th to be exact, the late Farmere Stubblefield, a founding member of Thrust ’80, texted this inspirational verse: “Every struggle in your life has shaped you into the person you are today.” We have all come through many challenges over the last 40 years, but our characters have prepared and shaped us into the men -- fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles and cousins we have become today, caring for our families, committed to our ideals, supporting our communities, and devoted to the development of our native country.

This is the character of Thrust ’80’s membership, which is comprised of very simple and humble gentlemen. We are not rich, but we have learned to give the little we have. Thrust ’80 is a tight knit group of about 20 members, and strong and committed spouses and significant others who have been the real backbone and inspiration for this organization over the last 40 years.

The current Chairman of Thrust ’80 is Joshua Howard (Joy); Co-chair, Gabriel Wureh; Director of Outreach & Communications, Jenkins Cooper; Treasurer, Stephen Doe; Parliamentary/Ombudsman, Charles Russell; and Spiritual Advisor, Taofiq Raymond. Members include: David Badio, Jr. (Barbara); Kwame Clement (Charlotte); Jenkins Cooper (Cecelia); Stephen Doe; Augustus Erskine (Arlene); Dr. Joseph Gbaba (Araminta); Caesar Gardiner (Myra); Julius Gooding (Willa); Alvin Harris (Eunice); Claude Langley (Charlene); Emmanuel Lawrence (Amanda); Prince Menjor (Watta); Wilfred Passawe (Dorothy); Anthony Phillips (Jackie); Taofiq Raymond (Yassa); Bill Ross, III (Jethrine; Charles Russell (Lilian); Floyd Thomas; Stephen Weeks; Gabriel Wureh (Matilda); and Harrison Yaidoo (Yvette).

Thrust 80 is a 501C(3) Humanitarian and Non-profit Organization based in the US and Liberia. If you are interested in donating to our charitable works, either in cash or in-kind, please contact Jenkins Cooper, Director of Outreach and Communications, Thrust ‘80. Mr. Cooper can be contacted via: Phone (202) 567-1097 and Email: jenkinsc@the-mitchellgroup.com.