Pastor Duane Thomas Jr. delivered his first sermon at age 12. He was licensed to preach when he was 18. By age 23 he was a senior pastor. Thomas, whose father was an ordained apostle at God’s Way of Life Interdenominational Church on East Ferry Street, grew up studying the Bible.
Today he preaches at Praise Temple Full Gospel Baptist Church on 18th Street in Niagara Falls and at the former True Praise & Worship Church on Walden Avenue, near Bailey. Thomas’ evangelism goes beyond the pulpit. He’ll preach in a public park and on a street corner in a crime-ravaged neighborhood. His message has wheels.
A member of the Lafayette High School Class of 2001, Thomas is 32 and lives in Buffalo. He plans to marry in May.
People Talk: Do you remember your first sermon?
Duane Thomas Jr.: Yes, it was entitled: “When you could, you wouldn’t, and now you want to, but you can’t.” I gave it at my grandmother’s church, the old True Word Holiness Church.
PT: You must have a way with words.
DT: Even at a young age I had a calling to reach people. I was always meeting a lot of different individuals at school, but I didn’t pursue college right away. I was busy getting married the first time. In 2004, I went to the University of Phoenix online and earned an associate’s degree in business administration. I am now completing my bachelor’s degree online at DeVry University.
PT: Why did you name your ministry after yourself?
DT: DT Ministries? That’s my media ministry – the tapes and videos to get preaching engagements and things. It’s more like a business. You have the church, which is your main ministry operated by a board of deacons. And then you have your own ministry where you have the ability to travel and go to other churches to evangelize.
PT: Do you rap your sermons?
DT: Yes. My sermons are really charismatic. I’m one of the more energetic preachers in our area. I have a lot of videos on YouTube. The way I capture the attention of the audience is to talk about issues of struggle that I’ve been through or that others are going through. Like what it’s like to be an African-American in Buffalo. A lot of times we just want to give up – financial-wise. The job market is difficult. That’s a large struggle in the African-American community where you get up every day to go to work, and you have just enough to feed family and pay bills.
PT: Did you hit a rough patch as a young teen?
DT: I went to School 77 on Normal, and one of my science teachers had a junior fraternity, Kappa Phi. I saw the members perform a step show. I joined and became a step master. I developed the routines and took them to competitions. The other side was the females and the parties. Instead of sticking to my calling, I ran with that from age 12 to 17. It opened the door for temptation.
PT: Was that when you were working at Subway in the True Bethel Baptist Church?
DT: I haven’t worked at Subway since “Undercover Boss” shot part of an episode there that aired in 2010. I was in it.
PT: Is the Rev. Darius Pridgen your role model?
DT: Definitely. I look at it like this: Any direction you want to follow, you have to get connected to someone already there or who can help you get there. He’s my spiritual father and has been an awesome role model since I started my first church in 2006.
PT: What do you do for a living?
DT: I run my own business called Seek First. I got the name from Scripture. I do Web design, flyer design. I do work for other pastors, other churches, logos. I also help people start businesses.
PT: Where do you shine brightest?
DT: I would say evangelism. In the Falls, I would get a permit from the city that would allow me to go into bad communities with drug activity and pick a corner to have a one-hour service. I picked up the sound system, the drums, chairs – all of that on a corner every other week in summer.
PT: Didn’t you recently organize a peace rally at a Niagara Falls night club that was the scene of a shooting?
DT: At the 3Ms? We can’t sit back and not speak about it. If no one stands up, it will continue. We gathered 1,000 signatures. Our main purpose was to get it closed, and we did not, but the owner agreed to change his atmosphere so he’s no longer going to do the parties for the 18 to 30 crowd. He will do jazz for a mature crowd and have children’s birthday parties. I think that’s a big step right there.
PT: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
DT: Running corporations, nonprofit organizations and helping the youth of the community. We’re trying to keep the youth off the streets in Niagara Falls. We need to reopen community centers and teach these young people leadership. I can see myself as a millionaire where I can be in a position to provide that for young people.
PT: That’s ambitious.
DT: The Bible says money answereth all things.