National Crime Victims' Rights Week

Expanding the Circle of Those Being Heard and Being Healed: Most Harmed, Least Helped - Young Men of Color

Written by Aswad Thomas, MSW, Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice

At age 10, I lost my best friend in a senseless drive-by shooting in Highland Park, Michigan, where we both grew up. Afterward, I had no access to grief or trauma counselors in the community or at my school to help me cope and heal after Reubin’s death.

Years later, in 2009, I lacked support again, when I was shot twice in an attempted robbery in Hartford, CT. I had recently graduated from college and signed to play basketball professionally in Europe. Those bullets ended my basketball career. I suffered from depression, paranoia, PTSD, and had no place to turn for therapy or emotional recovery.

At the hospital, the doctor treating my injuries told me the story of a 14-year-old victim of gun violence he had treated three years prior. I realized he was describing one of the two young men involved in my shooting, the one who escaped arrest. Something clicked. This is how the cycle of violence and unaddressed trauma results in further victimization.

No one had been there for this young man and so the cycle continued. I wanted to help make things different. I worked with the prosecutor to secure a shorter, six to 10-year sentence for the young man arrested in my shooting. During my healing journey, I decided to pursue my Masters in Social Work to understand how trauma impacts people’s social behaviors and its lasting impact on communities most affected by violence.

Too many crime survivors never receive the care and support they need. In order to achieve true safety in our communities, our voices — the voices of crime survivors— must be heard. That is why I have dedicated my life to expanding the circle of those being heard and being healed.

Through my work with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), we have expanded a first-of-its-kind trauma recovery model, leveraging existing federal and state dollars to make comprehensive trauma recovery services accessible for all victims of violent crime. Trauma recovery centers are a proven way to help the hardest-to-reach survivors of violent crime heal and recover.

Ultimately stopping the cycle of crime means stopping the cycle of trauma in our communities. To do that, we must expand the circle to reach all victims, and we must start with our youth. We must invest in the treatment, healing, and recovery of young people, their families, and their communities. We must listen to the voices of crime survivors and connect their needs to those policies and programs that can help stop the cycle of crime.

Young people are experiencing crime and victimization at alarming rates. I am proud to serve on the National Steering Committee as part of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges for the Vision 21: Linking Systems of Care for Children and Youth Technical Assistance Project. This project is focused on promoting healing for victims of crime, providing prevention and intervention services to youth and families experiencing trauma, and building capacity within communities to meet the needs of youth exposed to violence.

The Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice survivors network has grown to 10,000 members strong in less than a year. We are holding our fifth annual Survivors Speak conference on April 9-10, 2018, in Sacramento, California and hosting our first national healing vigil day of action on Saturday, April 14 to mark the end of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. We are joining together to reaffirm our commitment to elevate our voices, honor loved ones, and advocate for smart justice policies that better support survivors, families, and communities.