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Anderson engages youth through computer business
Black History Month - A Legacy of Business
Black History - Potters
Thomas Anderson, owner of Potters Computer Systems in Lugoff, works on a laptop in his shop on Hwy. 1 South. Anderson also mentors ATEC students at the store, teaching them not just how to run a business or repair computers, but how to carry themselves in the workforce. - photo by Gary Phillips

Potter’s Computer Systems, at 1662 Hwy. 1 South in Lugoff, has only been open since September, but owner Thomas Anderson said he has years of experience with computers, including owning a previous business in Columbia. Anderson doesn’t just use his skills and knowledge to repair and upgrade computers, make cellphone repairs and handle other communication needs. He’s also passing his knowledge down to younger people.

 “I have had my own store since 2002 where I built computers, repaired computers and upgraded computers,” Anderson said. “I also did small office networks.”

He said he likes to pass on what he knows to younger people so they can have useful skills to take into the workforce.

“I also teach inner-city youths how to build computers in a summer program called Engage. We got a $25,000 grant from Dr. Solomon,” Anderson said, referring to a recent lottery winner. “My passion is building and repairing computers and I am also certified to repair all kinds of cell phones and iPads and iPods. I also take in interns. I work hand in hand with ATEC (the Applied Technology Education Campus) and they send a couple of their students here where I teach them how to run a computer business, do inventory control, how to repair phones, so when they go off to college they can at least create income for themselves.”

Jerry Taylor is a PC repair instructor at ATEC who said having students work with Anderson gives them a distinct advantage above what they learn in class.

“I try to place my students in local businesses to get them work experience. The combination of the certification and the work experience will help them when they go to get a job or go on to college,” Taylor said. 

Anderson said he also taught at Heyward Career and Technology Center in Columbia for seven years and, along with computers, taught lessons in life and how to succeed in the real world.

“You have to be to work on time. You have to be well groomed. You have to speak articulately. You can’t be talking in slang. You have to keep your pants above your butt level. You’ve got to show respect. You have to have an open mind,” he said. “You have to learn how to separate when you’re with your friends from when you’re with your employer. We get wide open when we’re with our friends. At work we have to stabilize.”

Born and raised in The Bronx, New York, Anderson’s father passed away when he was 12, leaving his mother with six children. He said when the youngest child was old enough for school, his mother went to work as a court clerk for 35 years.

“My mother was a very strong and stringent woman. I still call her at least once a week. Something she did for me was really phenomenal. I told her I didn’t plan to go to college and she said I had three months to move out,” Anderson said. “It made me realize that I could make it by myself. I did that for about a year, then I went into the Army. I got out of the Army and went back to my neighborhood and nothing had changed. JoJo was still up there drinking on the stairwell, Vincent is still beating on his girlfriend. Their idea of success was waiting for their mothers to die and then taking over their apartment.”

Anderson said the experience inspired him to get his education and improve his life. He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Strayer University in Washington, D.C., in 1985.

“You can’t tell me anything about growing up hard and growing up in the street. My passion is to educate the forgotten. By me having this business and by being honest with other black folks … kids and their parents see that I am out here and working in the school district, then the parents will want to be more involved and more engaged (with) their kids,” Anderson said. “Then they can see the light and say, ‘no, I’m not going to go out here and get a girl pregnant.’ If you don’t get your four-year degree, your life is sunk. Everybody when they’re 16 or 17 thinks they know everything.”

He said he worked for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Columbia for four years before opening his own business.

“I said ‘it’s time for me to go out and challenge myself and open my own business,’ and I’ve been doing this since 2002,” Anderson said. “I took a chance and started building computers and doing networks and it led me all the way to here.”

Anderson said he would like to help area businesses work together to increase everyone’s income and let consumers know it’s not always necessary to go to larger cities to find the goods and services they need.

“Why not have all the businesses in Lugoff, all the businesses in Camden, all the businesses in Elgin and even further … Kershaw, Lee County, Clarendon County create a network where we can interact with each other and do business with each other instead of going to north Columbia, thus taking the dollars out of our geographical location?” Anderson said.

He said his goal is to make a difference in the world and training the younger generation is a way to do it.

“You can make all the money you want, but if you’re lying on your death bed and you’re asking what you did to help a kid or to be a better member of society, then all you’re going to have is a lonely existence,” Anderson said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can.”