After Aswad Thomas saw the cycle of violence devastate his community and almost kill him, he dedicated himself to survivor-centered crime prevention as the chief of organizing and national director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.
For people wondering about community safety alternatives amid calls to defund and abolish the police, Aswad Thomas has an answer: listen to the victims. He was 26 and weeks away from leaving the United States to play basketball professionally in Europe when gun violence ended his career and almost ended his life. He realized that victims of crime like himself rarely get the resources for emotional, physical, or financial recovery, and this was true for his assailant, who lost an eye from a shooting. The criminal justice system devastated countless families like Thomas', but it never addressed underlying causes of crime, like poverty and lack of social services. That pain sparked a passion for advocacy. In 2015, Thomas received a master of social work and became the first to win "Social Worker of the Year" as a student. He joined Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice the following year, a flagship Alliance for Safety and Justice project. As their chief of organizing and national director, he expands their statewide networks of crime survivors and advocates for policies and programs that center survivors, families, and communities most affected by violence and trauma. This year, CSSJ released its first National Crime Victims Agenda, a 10-point plan to address collective trauma.