"I'm the nontraditional candidate," joked Thornton, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, who worked as a presidential communications officer under both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. "I don't make a big deal of it, but I'm the first African-American male in the whole 115-year history of the organization."
Thornton, a father of two college-aged kids, became involved in PTA at the local school level in the mid-1990s, when his children were young.
Working in Army intelligence, Thornton moved his family around the country several times and lived for a while in Germany. When the family returned to the United States in 2005, Thornton was stationed at Fort Meade in southern Maryland, where he enrolled his children in Meade High School and began helping to turn around the PTA there.
Thornton said that out of the more than 1,800 students at the school, only seven parents showed up to the first PTA meeting he attended. There weren't even enough parents to serve on the PTA board, so the commander of the base recruited Thornton, who was a Major at the time, for a position.
"The commander said to me, 'Major, what are we going to do about this?'" Thornton said of his first PTA meeting at Meade High School. "I said, 'sir, I just got in country a few weeks ago.' And he said, 'Major, what are we going to do about this?' So I said, 'OK, I can be vice-president.'"
As vice-president of the Meade High School PTA, Thornton worked with the base commander and the school's principal to help build a two-year media plan for the school. He started lobbying the school board to get more rigorous academic programs, like the International Baccalaureate Program and the STEM Program, in the school. He and his PTA colleagues also recruited businesses to partner with the school and offer internships for students. In his first year alone on the PTA, Thornton helped grow its membership from 25 to 400, he said.
Through his work, Thornton was soon noticed by the National PTA and was recruited for the national organization's membership committee and the legislative committee.
In July 2010, Thornton and his wife of 22 years, Caryn, an educator, moved to Cobb County. Thornton, who is originally from Elberton, retired from the Army and moved back to his home state.
He now serves on the National PTA legislative committee and volunteers at Floyd Middle School in Mableton. He also consults with Morehouse College, where he received his bachelor's degree.
Thornton said he is honored to serve as the National PTA's president-elect. He will service as president of the nationwide organization starting in June 2013.
"I'm very thankful to God for giving me this opportunity," Thornton said. "Through public education and hard work, these were the two factors that opened up the world for me."
Growing up in rural Georgia, Thornton said he has seen the entire socioeconomic spectrum.
"As an adult, I've tried to reach out to those families and the parents that don't have a voice," Thornton said. "I can relate to and connect to those very diverse populations."