Join the Association of Fundraising Professionals Arkansas Chapter on November 16 at the National Philanthropy Day Luncheon and celebrate the collective compassion and dedication of this year’s honorees – individuals, organizations and businesses that are transforming the lives of all Arkansans.
By Barrett Gay | Photography by Sara Reeves
AT THIRTEEN YEARS OLD, Officer Tommy Norman of the North Little Rock Police Department realized his life’s purpose. He came home one day with the money he had earned from mowing a lawn and noticed a television ad for Feed the Children. “You could send money to another country to clothe and feed a child, and that really captured my heart.” He promptly mailed the money and sponsored a child, but his mother informed him he would never get the opportunity to meet that individual. “It didn’t matter to me. I just knew that I wanted to make a difference in that child’s life.”
Since then, Tommy has lived every day according to his personal motto: ‘find the forgotten.’ “There’s just so many people out there that can’t take a stand for themselves, for whatever reason that may be,” Tommy explains. “So I really try to lift those people up to where they realize: ‘Hey, I do mean something to someone and someone cares.’”
TOMMY HAD TWO EXTRAORDINARY ROLE MODELS whom he sought to emulate. The first, basketball icon Michael Jordan; the second, his uncle, who was the police chief of Hot Springs Village. Tommy loved playing basketball and always wanted to be ‘like Mike.’ “When I finally realized that I wasn’t going to be the next M.J., I said I could be the next ‘Michael Jordan’ when it came to bridging the gap and building bridges in the community. So he really, really inspired me. Big time.” His Uncle Don inspired his career, which would become the platform he’d utilize to effect change. “I just thought it was the coolest thing that my uncle was a police officer. I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
For nearly two decades, Tommy has operated with the ‘community policing’ model — investing in his community beyond the expected call of duty. “There’s no small print, there’s no hidden agenda,” Tommy says. “I get up every day – even on my days off – and look to form new relationships or build off of relationships I’ve already formed.” In his popular Instagram videos, Tommy’s 1 million+ followers see him visiting and dancing with children and residents of North Little Rock, some of whom are homeless or disabled. These videos inspire individuals across the nation to support his local community by sending food, supplies and toys for the residents. Additionally, he brought the Shop with a Cop program – implemented in police departments across the country – to the NLRPD 11 years ago. “The goal is for a child to shop with an officer and develop a friendship that doesn’t just end when they’re through shopping,” Tommy explains. “The kids have to buy someone in their family something, because we want to teach them how to give and not just receive. We want them to feel good about giving.”
A CNN INTERVIEW AND A GO-FUND-ME campaign propelled Tommy’s work into the national – and even international – spotlight. In 2015, rapper Killer Mike spoke on CNN, praising Tommy’s philosophy and heart, noting, “he’s doing something right.” The following year, 13-year-old Harlem Taylor, son of rapper The Game, discovered “good police officer” stories – including Officer Norman’s – after being discouraged by news reports. Harlem and his father created a GoFundMe account to generate additional funding to assist Tommy’s community policing efforts — nearly 3,000 people contributed more than $73,000. With this money, Tommy fulfilled a personal goal + vision: starting a charitable foundation.
THE MISSION GIVE FOUNDATION work consists of “building bridges, breaking barriers.” Through the support of the GoFundMe campaign, Mission Give has donated approximately $20,000 to hurricane relief efforts in Houston and the NLRPD Fallen Officers Golf Tournament as well as the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the NLR Police Athletic League. With Mission Give, Tommy has a new platform to share his passion for cultivating relationships + giving. “To me, a button-down and a pair of blue jeans is far more powerful than a police uniform, because people say, ‘okay, this guy really cares when he’s off the clock,’” Tommy says. “I want people to know me as ‘Tommy’ and not ‘Officer Norman.’ I want people to know my heart and not my badge.”
Through his commitment to ‘finding the forgotten,’ Tommy has learned a critical lesson: “don’t wait until tomorrow to really be there for someone, because if you wait ‘til tomorrow, that person may not be here. The time is now.”
“Tommy recognizes the significance of fundraising within the roles of public service and in our society in general. He continues to raise money for not only his cause, but other worthy organizations as well. If you ask him, he will say, ‘I’m just doing what anyone else would do.’ But, no, everybody doesn’t do that.” – President Ganelle Blake, Association of Fundraising Professionals – Arkansas Chapter Board of Directors