Aswad Thomas: Challenge Community Gun Violence Through Personal Triumph
Since 2009, Aswad Thomas went from a victim of gun violence to an outspoken advocate for gun violence victims.
By Kelby McIntosh, Freelance Writer
Concord, CA – Since my time as a journalist, you inevitably realize two things about working in the industry – understanding the stance of your readers and the angle you want to present to a story. While those two things might seem like common sense, we often, as journalists, tend to write about specific topics in a one-dimensional view. One of those particular topics is gun violence.
After almost 11 years of working as a journalist, it’s safe to say I’ve written more about gun violence this past year; than in the entirety of my career. The LA Times recently reported that assault and gun violence had increased substantially by 50% since 2019, with most victims of violence being people of color. While horrifying statistics speak volumes about the changes that need to happen within our communities, as a Journalist – I always thought about how people recover from these incidences.
When I got the email to attend the Survivors Speak National Virtual Conference 2022, Hosted by Aswad Thomas, Managing Director at Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a flagship project of Alliance for Safety and Justice throughout the united states. Speaking with Aswad opened my mind to a side of gun violence I hadn’t seen – The survivor’s perspective.
To understand perspective, we must go back to Highland Park, a city within Detroit, Michigan. “They were, and still are, poverty-stricken communities that provide little to no hope for young men of color,” Aswad said. “I watched my three older brothers and their friends walk the path of destruction and promised myself that I wouldn’t do the same.” Aswad went on to excel in the classroom and on the basketball court. As a senior, Aswad was the NCAA Division III Statistical Champion in steals per game (4.6), ranked seventh nationally in assists (7.2), and helped the Blazers to their best-ever national ranking (12).
But In 2009, just three weeks from going to Europe to play professional basketball, Aswad’s life changed forever—being the first male in his family to graduate from College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management. Aswad Thomas became a victim of gun violence.
“Two men tried to rob me when I left the convenience store in my neighborhood,” Aswad said with a heavy tone. After a brief scuffle with the robbers, the assailants drew firearms and fired eight shots at Aswad when he tried to run back into the store. “Two bullets pierced hit me in the back, collapsing my lungs and dislocating my shoulder,” Aswad stated in the conference. “Barely missing my spinal cord and aorta; those two gunshots ended my basketball career and could’ve killed me.”
Although Aswad was fortunate to see another day of life, he was released back into the same Highland Park community with little support to recover mentally and physically. After years of physical and emotional pain, he started a new chapter in his life by becoming one of the most outspoken supporters of survivors of gun violence in urban communities. Aswad founded The Hartford Action, a grassroots organization working to empower communities to change policy and improve the relationship between the Greater Hartford community and the justice system.
While I could deep-dive into the many accolades of Aswad dating back to 2014, my takeaway was the space he provided for other victims of gun violence with The Survivors Speak National Virtual Conference 2022 earlier this year. The two-day event bolstered myriads of victims and advocates, sharing their stories and educating attendees on how they can help spread the message by becoming advocates for gun violence.
Aswad stated, “Organizing this national network of crime survivors was the purpose of this conference; we wanted to help elevate those voices most commonly affected by violence.” I felt Aswad and the other participants accomplished that goal through the interactive breakout groups on day two of the conference. While this article is primarily about Aswad’s story, those speakers were moved by his experiences. They saw what he’s achieved, and to not mention those victims’ bravery – I feel, would shortchange the purpose of what Aswad wanted.
What Aswad Thomas is doing is more significant than him. Though dozens of well-established news outlets have shared his story – he wants to share other victims’ stories to create a change within our system regarding gun violence. In contrast, not highlighting the need for proper recovery programs and educational tools for gun violence only showed me the vast reporting gaps in journalism. Suppose statistics can pinpoint the methods of violence and the communities that are the primary targets. In that case, we should have the same efforts to report the programs helping victims of gun violence recover.
Do you have a story? While resolving many of these issues takes time within the bureaucratic process – there are still things you can be doing. If you want to learn more about Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, how to share your story, donate, and become a member. You can visit their website cssj.org for information on local chapters within your community.
Like Aswad, your story can be a shining beacon of education for gun violence and the means of creating safer communities for people of color across our nation.
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