Desmeon Thomas lived a different life before 2002, one filled with the idolization of money, cars and jewelry. After he graduated from Murrah High School in 2001, he became involved in a gang and looked up to older gang members, intending to follow in their footsteps.
"I was living a little rough," Thomas says. "They say karma will catch up with you."
In 2002, a life-altering car-jacking changed his life forever. Sitting in the passenger seat of a friend's car, Thomas was shot through the cheek, leaving him with severe spinal-cord injuries.
Now 29, Thomas is a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. He is a major advocate for people with disabilities in Jackson, working for Life of Mississippi as the healthy opportunities for transition specialist. He also volunteers with organizations such as The Arc of Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Mississippi Paralysis Association and many others.
Thomas credits the organizations around Jackson for helping him adjust to his new life. "When I first got hurt, I didn't have a clue. I didn't know what the next day would bring," Thomas said. "I don't think I would have made it if I hadn't had someone like that to talk to me."
Life of Mississippi, one of the many resources in Jackson for people with disabilities, offers information and referral, peer support and advocacy and skills training.
Today, June 21, and tomorrow, June 22, Jackson will host a conference for people with disabilities. The Mississippi Disability Mega Conference is the first of its kind in the state of Mississippi and only the third known state to hold this mega conference. It offers people the chance to hear from a variety of specialists and organizations in the Jackson area as well as personal testimonies from disabled people.
"I got a chance to listen to other people, it's a lightbulb in your head that says if this person has overcome their situation, there's a possibility that you can to,' Thomas said. "Sometimes you need to be inspired in order to push forward."
For Thomas, that's what he hopes this conference will bring to people with and without disabilities. "If anyone has any questions about what to do for a family member with a disability or people who just have questions, this mega conference will inform them."
"It's good to know you have a support system. This is a good time to see who those support systems are," Thomas said.
To attend the conference party at 7 p.m. tonight, June 21, or to attend the half-day conference tomorrow, June 22, please contact Disability Rights Mississippi at 601-968-0600 before 4:30p.m. The party is at the Jackson Marriott (200 E. Amite St.) The registration fee is $25-$15.