Aswad Thomas was born in Hartford, CT but spent most of his childhood years in Highland Park, Michigan, a city within Detroit, Michigan. He grew up in a single-parent home along with four older brothers. He lived in two communities riddled with systematic and personal barriers that didn’t provide him with many opportunities to succeed in life. They were, and still are, poverty-stricken communities that provides little to no hope for young men of color. As the youngest child in his family, he watched as three of his older brothers and their friends walked the path of destruction. As he viewed the paths that their lives were taking, he promised himself that he wasn’t going to do the same. Thomas went on to excel in the classroom and on the basketball court.
As a junior at Elms College, Thomas helped lead the men’s basketball team to the program’s first-ever and school’s first-ever victory in NCAA Division III Championship play. As a senior, he was named First Team All-New England Collegiate Conference (NECC), 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). He received the Dr. Joachim Froehlich Award, Elms College Most Prestigious award for achieving athletic and academic excellence, understanding the College’s mission and inspiring his teammates and coaches in Basketball.
On May 6, 2009, He became the first male in his family to graduate from College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management. Three months later he was on his way to play professional basketball in Europe.
On August 24, 2009, Thomas was just three weeks from going to Europe to play professional basketball when his life changed forever. Thomas became a victim of gun violence. As he left a convenience store in his neighborhood, two men approached him with intent on robbing him. After a brief scuffle eight shots were fired at him as he tried to run back into the store. Two bullets pierced through his back, collapsing his lungs, dislocating his shoulder, and just missing his spinal cord and aorta by inches. These two near-fatal gunshots to his back ended his basketball career and nearly killed him. He was released from the hospital back into the same community where the incident happened 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 nation's most outspoken supporters of additional resources for survivors of gun violence in urban communities, and has been a leader in building coalitions across racial lines to address justice reform and gun violence prevention. This has included Thomas’s founding of 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.
In October 2014, Thomas was inducted into the Elms College Athletic Hall of Fame and delivered the keynote speech at the Elms College Fall Semester Academic Convocation. U.S. Rep. John Lewis delivered the keynote speech at the school’s commencement ceremony. Two African-American Men that made history at Elms College by delivering powerful speeches that started and ended the 2014-2015 academic year at Elms College.
In 2015, Thomas graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work with a Masters Degree in Social Work and later made history in Connecticut by becoming the first student to ever win the NASW-CT Chapter Social Worker of the Year award, while still being enrolled in school.
Thomas’s story was featured in the New York Times, Time Magazine, The Hill, New Yorker Magazine, NBC LX, NBC Nightly News, Huff Post, Chicago Tribune, The Trace, Detroit Free Press, The Guardian, VICE, The Marshall Project, and dozens of other media outlets.
Thomas currently serves as the Managing Director at Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a flagship project of Alliance for Safety and Justice; He is organizing a national network of crime survivors to include those most commonly affected by violence (including young men and women of color) to help elevate those voices in local, state and federal policymaking debates.
Thomas received a MSW, with a concentration in Community Organizing and focused area of study in Urban Issues, from the University of Connecticut, and a B.A. in Business Management from Elms College.
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