Of course, the statistics of being an African American male in Rochester today are sobering. Lower educational attainment, higher unemployment, higher incarceration rates, and challenges in preserving the traditional family structure are intractable problems with solutions that have been evasive.
However, Mr. Banister’s life defied these statistics. Moreover, he dedicated his life, in ways great and small, to helping other men and boys overcome these challenges.
“I’ve known Thomas and his family for many years,” former Mayor Bill Johnson stated. “And, you know, he has been a very committed community member, working on a number of projects. I got to know him a lot better when I was mayor, while he was working with our sister cities program, with Mali. One of my strong impressions of him was he was a very serious thinker, and a man who was very concerned about the community. So, I know him as someone who was just steady, and committed, and a person who loved doing things for people.”
Mr. Banister attended No. 4 George Mather Forbes Elementary School, and graduated from West High School (now Wilson Commencement High School).
He earned his A.S. at Monroe Community College, B.S. at Empire State University, and his M.S. from Roberts Wesleyan College.
Thomas had also been a twenty-six year retiree of the Xerox Corporation, where he was a service technician, trainer, and service manager.
And, while Mr. Banister’s educational and professional achievements were noteworthy against the statistical backdrop for African American males, his life beyond his career illustrated his deep commitment in improving life for others in Rochester.
On a community-wide basis, he served as the president of the board of directors for the North East Area Development (NEAD), Inc., leading the implementation of the community’s first Freedom School, an effort to stave off summer learning loss for local youth. He was also an active member of the Rochester-Bamako Mali Sister Cities Committee, where, at the time of his death, he had been working with the committee to plan a visit from the Ambassador of Mali to Rochester, later this month.
“Once again, Rochester has lost another pillar of our community, and I am deeply saddened by the loss of Thomas Banister,” Mayor Lovely Warren stated. “Thomas was involved in so many facets of our city, from his work at NEAD, and with the Martin Luther King Commission, to his church, and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. His commitment to our city was something that was very personal to me, as he was one of the very first mentors when I started Operation Transformation Rochester. I offer my deepest condolences to everyone who’s life he touched, and especially his beloved wife Iris, his son Simeon, and their entire family.”
Thomas also served as a manager for tax preparation with the Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope (CASH) program, to help families retain and invest their tax savings, and worked with the University of Rochester Medicine, Strong Memorial Hospital’s Standard Patient Program, to train student doctors in patient satisfaction/relations. He was also the election coordinator for the town of Henrietta, and served as a mentor in the Operation Transformation Program, encouraging young men to return to school, and look toward future careers.
He had also been an active participant in the Henrietta Interracial Clergy Council, encouraging a healthy and honest dialogue on race. Thomas was widely known in the community, and left an indelible imprint on anyone that came across his gray beard and avuncular disposition. He also took a personal interest in providing mentorship to young men.
Mr. Banister was one of the creators of the Chess Club at School No. 44, and had been a Pillar of Hope, visiting public schools to serve as a role model. He was also a proud member of the Eta Rho Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity Inc., serving two terms as chapter president. In that capacity, he mentored young men in the Leadership Development Institute, and partnered with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Inc. to serve as a Big Brother.
Mr. Banister had been an ordained Deacon, and served in that capacity at Grace Temple Church of God, Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, and St. Luke Tabernacle Community Church. Most recently, he meted out his Christian service as an elder at In Christ New Hope Ministries, where he focused on the Men’s Ministry.
One of Thomas’ favorite pastimes was traveling. He had the opportunity to travel to several points across the USA, China, the Caribbean, Europe, and many countries in Africa. He joyfully visited Liberia, where he attended the 2012 inauguration of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the re-chartering of the Liberian chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha.
The best evidence of his defiance of the statistics was also exemplified in the relationship he had with his family. He is married to the Queen mother, and his wife of 46 years, Iris Sulcer Banister. They have three adult sons: Rev. Dr. Thomas III (wife-Tarsha) a graduate of Duke University and Virginia Union presently residing in High Point, North Carolina; Simeon (wife-Akilah) holding degrees from Princeton and North Carolina Central University resides in Rochester, NY; and Ethan (wife-Fatima) a graduate of Langston University resides in Rochester; three grandchildren DeMaris (15), DeMia (6) and Julian (3). Sister, Linda (Stephen Sr.) Griffin; brother, Michael Banister; nieces, nephews, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, other relatives, church family, and a host of friends.
Calling hours will be held Friday, March 18, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at In Christ New Hope Ministries, 155 Pinnacle Rd. Thomas’ Alpha brothers will also honor his life and legacy with an Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Omega Service at 7 p.m.
His funeral service will be held Saturday, March 19, at 11 a.m., at the church, and Pastor Roger L. Breedlove, will officiate the service. Interment will be at Riverside Cemetery.
Arrangements have been made by Millard E. Latimer and Son, 983 S. Plymouth Ave., 585-328-2680. Flowers and cards may be sent to In Christ New Hope Ministries, 155 Pinnacle Rd., or interested individuals may make a donation to the Thomas A. Banister Foundation, 866 Surrey Hill Way, Rochester, NY 14623.