Gun violence survivor hosts ‘inspire’ brand pop-up shop at Flint Farmers’ Market

FLINT, MI – Eric Patrick Thomas, a gun violence survivor, successfully hosted a pop-up shop at the Flint Farmers’ Market this week.

The entrepreneur and advocate for people with disabilities sold his merchandise “inspire” brand at Friends of the Market.

Local vendors Crust Bakery and Brooks Tea partnered with Thomas, offering a special promotion during the event.

Thomas said when he first entered the market, he was greeted by customers and vendors.

“Brooks Tea and Crust Bakery put up balloons and it felt like a surprise party,” Thomas told MLive-The Flint Journal. “They were clapping and had a welcoming committee. It was not planned.”

The local vendors and customers could be seen wearing the inspire T-shirts walking around the market. It was the second pop-up event Thomas held this summer.

On Sept. 20, 1997, Thomas was hosting a party for his debut album release of his hip-hop group, Mizcellaneous, and invited 200 to 300 friends to his apartment in Lansing.

As he had his back turned facing the front porch of his apartment, gunshots went off.

One of the bullets struck Thomas in the neck, piercing his C3 and C4 vertebrates and leaving fragments lodged in his spine, and another grazed the back of his head, according to Flint Journal records.

As a person with quadriplegia, Thomas pivoted toward starting his own business, creating his company EZ Awareness By Design, launched in November 2011.

Soon after, he linked up with Daymond John, founder of the fashion brand FUBU and one of the investors on the famous hit television show “Shark Tank.” He met with John at a local college.

The former owner of Local 432, Joel Rash, surprised Thomas and attended the event.

“I’ve been an indie-punk rock concert promoter since 1985 and I originally knew Eric through the music scene,” Rash said. “Eric was an up-and-coming performer that had a ton of buzz in the city before he got hurt. And honestly, when Eric got hurt, we thought that’s the last we’ll ever hear of Eric. But we should have known him better because a couple years later, he was back on the scene making things happen as a musician and entrepreneur.”

Thomas has posted a series on YouTube titled “HOW do YOU” explaining how he does every day life things, such as driving his wheelchair forward and backward.

Thomas has inspire gear inside of Flint Bishop International Airport, Metro Detroit Airport and the Gerald R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids.

“Everybody feels like they have struggles and obstacles to overcome,” Rash said. “And then you look at Eric and spend some time with him and realize that maybe what you’ve overcome wasn’t the highest mountain to climb. And maybe what you accomplished wasn’t everything you could do until now. It really is about inspiring and saying there probably more all of us can do.”

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