Name: Kai-Lee Yip-Palmer
The Person Beneath
Upon entering a family reunion, my family members’ faces welcome me to the event. In the sea of faces, I see aunts, uncles, and cousins. Superficially, everything seems normal at this seemingly mundane event, with a dash of chaos. Superfically, my family seems to personify a typical, everyday American family. But upon delving beyond the surface and learning about the history of those I call family, they are surely not.
One of my older cousins is named James, but I respectfully called him Uncle James. He is the son of the younger sister on my father’s side. He was a successful master mechanic, with a wife and children. However, he also had a crippling cocaine addiction and grappled with alcoholism his entire life. But let us rewind first. To set the stage, background information about the person James was, beyond the classification of “junkie,” is necessary.
In high school, James was a stellar student: he was an A honor roll student on top of being a star football player and wrestling champion. When seeking higher education, James received a full-ride wrestling scholarship from Olivet College. Until he was busted for a DUI, losing his scholarship and place at Olivet. After that debacle, James eventually earned his degree from Macomb Community College, discovered cocaine, became a master mechanic for Mercedes-Benz, which he lost due to DUIs/other substance-related issues. After Mercedes-Benz fell through, my uncle found other work as a master mechanic and maintained a comfortable income. Yet while his career seemed to stabilize, his addictions did not. He continued battling with his poisons of choice for the rest of his life. He cycled through probably over 4 rehab centers and faced constant legal problems pertaining to DUIs/drug use. James was facing a year-long prison sentence for a DUI before he died from a fentanyl and cocaine overdose prematurely at 37. He never made it to the allotted court date.
There is no mistaking that my Uncle James has his fair share of demons. However, even with all the bad, he was still a person. Many individuals discerned just the surface and labeled James as a “druggie.” Nonetheless, he is—was—so much more. To some people James was a considerate son, devout husband, attentive father, and dependable uncle. However, when the authorities were reviewing James’s death, there were possible signs of foul play that went uninvestigated because of his drug history.
There is a stigma surrounding substance misuse that—while could be justified—ends up causing more harm than good. Many substance misusers are branded with belittling terms that dehumanize and can deem them unworthy of proper treatment as humans. The topic of substance misuse hits very close to home and is personal. When thinking about my future career, my goal is to become a medical professional and make a difference in all people’s lives—especially those like my family. This scholarship is one step closer to my objectives. One step closer to making a difference in the lives of all people.