FLINT, Mich. – Eric Thomas was a hard-working artist with a bright future and the possibility of a music career on the horizon.
One bullet changed everything for Thomas in a split second.
It was 1997. Thomas was living the college life in Lansing. He had a party at his house. It was a celebration thrown by the up-and-coming rap artist.
Suddenly, there was a flash. Gunfire. Thomas had immediate numbness.
"So, instantly. I got hit in the neck," he said. "You could have probably drove nails into me and it wouldn't have felt any different."
Thomas spent weeks in a hospital. He was surrounded by friends and family. At 20 years old, Thomas couldn't move his arms or legs.
"Everything was just coming at you at one time, and there's like no book or anything that says this is how you do it," Thomas said.
Confined to his bed, Thomas was understandably angry. His life took a turn. He was a lyricist who never imagined writing again.
But then a stranger appeared at his door.
"There was like this chaplain or somebody that was going from room to room and he just came in my room and I think right there is where I made the crossroad to where the life I'm living now and where it could have been," Thomas said. "And the guy just said, 'Do you forgive the person that did this?' and I was like, 'Yeah.'"
Fifteen years later, the man who shot Thomas still has not been found. Thomas' cold case is very different from others. Many times victims of unsolved crimes understandably put all of their effort into finding the person who changed their life. Not Thomas.
"I would say it's unsolved," he said. "You know, it's not going to change anything. You know, if they catch the person or persons, you know, in the next hour ... won't change a thing. It won't change the physical part of it. I'm not just gonna wake up and step out of the chair and be like, 'Oh, solved crime, we're all good. Let's walk home.'"
Even though Thomas lives with a constant reminder of that fateful day -- it's lodged deep in his back -- he has made a conscious decision to look at life differently with an outlook that can only be described as: Eric.
"The bullet is still in me. It's in my third vertebrae. But I guess they would call it quadriplegic, sometimes," he said. "Sometimes they call it tetraplegia. So I don't know, I just call it Eric."
Eric focuses on positive outlook, doing things for others in his community
Whether it's wheelies in his wheelchair or cracking jokes, Eric's positive outlook and his determination to make a difference in his community is contagious.
"Everybody's got to deal with different things, different obstacles," he said. "If life was easy, then we wouldn't feel alive. I mean, I think we go through all the different ups and downs so that it makes us feel that adrenaline and that aliveness."
Thomas has opened a painting business in Flint. A portion of the business is dedicated to motivational attire.
"I always wanted to put my messages on shirts. Like self determination or accessibility."
He has been instrumental in the Flint Film Festival. He is a motivational speaker, a member of the city's visitor bureau and with his roots planted in song, Thomas is even helping others with a music therapy studio.
"As I climb the mountain, I'm also helping people. I'm not kicking them down."
The Flint native also has secured grants to help others with physical impairments.
"I have resources that can get them where they can get out of the house and have a social life and enjoy things, and not be stuck," he said.
He has personal goal of becoming self-sufficient
Thomas is helping others, but don't be fooled. This tireless visionary does have one goal for himself.
"Every movement has to be relied on someone else," he said. "To itch your nose, you know, scratch your head, swipe a fly away, give you a drink. I think. I speak. I direct. You know, I can do all those things. But physically, gotta have someone do something for you."
So Thomas' mission is to be self-sufficient.
"That's the No. 1 thing ... being able to be self-sufficient, because I'd like to buy a house ... get to do some things. Get to take a vacation without relying on everybody else. Being able to support myself would be nice."
Thomas has a personal mission statement he shares with everyone he meets.
"Be determined, you know, don't say I can't. Say how."
Thomas says he is living proof the power of determination is stronger than a bullet.
More information on Thomas' business: Facebook.com/EZAwarenessByDesign