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Surviving inner-city gun violence to help protect the next generation

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HARTFORD--Aswad Thomas had a shot.  He grew up on Edgewood Street--one of the toughest streets in one of Connecticut's most violent neighborhoods.  Many who grow up here don't think they'll live past 25, but Thomas had a real future.

For hours a day, he'd take jump-shots, work on his dribbling and put an emphasis on finding the open man at the outdoor court they called the "Ave," located next to the old Hartford Police substation on Albany Avenue.

Thomas stayed in school and was a star point guard at Weaver High School.  He went to college, where he continued to play ball, and was about to go pro.  "I got offered a professional contract to go overseas to play over in Holland," Thomas said.

The point guard's crossover to Europe, would have been the North End teen's shot.  Two shots, however, changed everything.

"August 24, 2009. That's when my life changed," Thomas recalled.

It was around 10:30 p.m. and two armed men tried to rob Thomas as he came out the corner store at Edgewood and Albany.

A scuffle ensued, shots were fired, and two bullets went into his back, one just an inch from his spine.

Thomas wound up where too many from the neighborhood do: the trauma room at St. Francis Hospital, where an average of one shooting victim fights for his or her life per day.

Thomas was one of the lucky ones. He made a full recovery, and even got more offers to play overseas, but Thomas decided to stay home and continue school. Now 32, Thomas just got his master's degree in sociology, with a focus on urban issues, from UConn.

Thomas returned to where he feels like he owes his life.  He's finishing up an internship at St. Francis, helping to facilitate community outreach programs.  Thomas has also worked side-by-side with inner-city activists taking a stance against gun violence.

So hoop dreams gave way to addressing the nightmare killing Hartford's youth.  "Everybody work together it can be done, I truly believe that we can change what's going on in Hartford."

Aswad Thomas always did it the right way, and he's alive to show the way.