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12 years ago he was homeless. Now he’s off to BYU law school as one of their inaugural Achievement Fellows

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Editor's note: This story has been adapted from a feature originally published by Y Magazine.

Anyone who has endeavored to read all 558 pages of Jesus the Christ knows it is no small task. The book is full of dense doctrinal instruction that could easily take anyone months to get through.

But not Paris Thomas. He devoured it in just two weeks.

As a recent convert to the Church, Thomas was hungry for knowledge and for the gospel. He had a difficult upbringing in Tuskegee, Alabama: he’d lost both his brothers to gang violence, experienced periods of starvation, and spent many nights in a makeshift homeless shelter.

But when he began to meet with the missionaries as a 14-year-old high school dropout, Thomas could feel the same peace he’d felt when his mother used to read him Bible stories. Those same missionaries helped Thomas pass the GED, find a job, and eventually move to Utah to further his education.

Thomas went on to achieve even more, serving a full-time Church mission in England and later enlisting in the navy, where he was assigned his top pick of posts: Guantanamo Bay. And it was there that he was first inspired to do something that would have seemed truly impossible just years before: pursuing a law degree at Brigham Young University. He is determined to learn how to improve the suffering and disparity he witnessed growing up.

“When I see a young man who’s involved in gangs, I don’t see a thug. I see [my brother] Jeremiah. When I see a homeless person, I see the people I was with every day in those shelters, slept next to. I see myself,” he told Y Magazine. “Our universal heritage as people is suffering, and we should try to alleviate that for each other, in whatever form that is.”

Thomas is one of the inaugural recipients of BYU Law School’s Achievement Fellowships, honoring students who have overcome significant hardships.

Read about Thomas’s journey, including how he used to ride around with the missionaries on a bike with pink streamers, in a feature from Y Magazine.

You can also watch a video produced by the Church several years ago about Thomas and his conversion story in the player below.

▶You may also like: From sleeping on the Oakland temple grounds to earning a PhD—1 woman’s testimony that ‘winter never lasts forever’

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