Courage To Come Back: Addiction award recipient overcame racism, bullying, substance use to lead by example

He was convicted more than 30 times for dealing drugs, mainly crack and heroin. Now 15 years sober, he is an example for others. Our series of Courage To Come Back profiles continues with a look at Kevin Parker of Coquitlam, the recipient of the award in the Addiction category.

Kevin’s story begins in 1970s East Vancouver. He was born to a white mother and a Black father and was quickly singled out for looking different.

“There was really nobody that looked like me in my neighbourhood, there was nobody that looked like me at my school, there was nobody that really looked like me at the grocery store. The only other person that looked like me was my brother,” he said.

“We’d go to the grocery store and I can notice people looking at us strange, looking at my mom strange, people would make comments and, from that early age, I felt marginalized. I felt different, and I could feel … I didn’t know what it was [then], but, you know, now I think it’s called racism.”

Kevin was bullied at school and fought back. But he would eventually find his escape in drugs – first weed and then, at age 13, crack.

“That’s the first time that I can really remember in my life feeling some kind of comfort,” he said. “I just felt like nothing mattered in the moment. I felt strong. I felt powerful. I felt not afraid. And the first thing I said when I was done smoking it was, ‘Can I get some more of that?’”

That set him down a path of crime and substance abuse. 

“I thought I would never come out of it. I always thought I was going to die in an alley or die in a jail cell,” he said.

Kevin wouldn’t see daylight again until his mid-30s. All the time he spent behind bars meant he couldn’t be the kind of father he wanted to be.

“It was that guilt and that heartache,” he said. “It took a lot of years but, by the time I was 35, I think the bottom was when I was sitting in prison the very last time, ending a three or a three-and-a-half year sentence or something. [I thought] I just don’t think I can do this anymore. You know?”

Today, Kevin works in harm reduction, walking alongside others as they make their journey from addiction to recovery.

“The work for me is about trying to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. 

His message: if he can do it, so can anyone else.

“And, if you ever think you can’t do it, there are people out there who can walk you through the process and show you that you can. It’s totally doable,” he said.

“What I say is, if folks are still breathing, there is still a chance. So, give yourself that chance.”

CityNews is a proud sponsor of the 2024 Coast Mental Health Courage To Come Back awards, which are being handed out Thursday, May 23rd at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

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