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Kevin Brooks inspiring students through his own tragedy

Disability Day brings speaker to JAWS students.
Kevin Brooks was speaking to JAWS students and community members last week. His first-person account of poor-choices resonated with many.

For National Disability Day, J.A. Williams High School students gathered in the Bold Center’s gymnasium early on November 4 to listen to Kevin Brooks, a 40-year-old paraplegic who has been confined to a wheelchair since a drunk driving car crash when he was 21. Brooks was intoxicated behind the wheel of his Chevy Z-24 speeding down a road near his Okanagan home. His friend Brendon Beuk was in the passenger seat. The car didn't navigate a corner and crashed. Beuk died in the crash. Brooks was paralyzed from the chest down. 

The crash resulted in Brooks being convicted of dangerous driving causing death. His license was suspended for three years, but he was not sent to jail. The 40 year old tells young students that he knows his sentence for in the courts for killing his friend was light, which is one of the main reasons he knew he had to do somethng more to try to make amends. He visits schools across North America to talk about his story and to teach adolescents the importance smart decision-making. 

Brooks told the assembled JAWS students that he knows first hand the impact of one reckless decision.

 “Everything’s changed. Every day there’s new obstacles everywhere, whether that be just performing day-to-day tasks,  transportation. Every aspect of life changes when you go from walking around standing at six feet tall to rolling around in a wheelchair.”

He says that every morning when he wakes up to see the wheelchair, he knows that his actions caused his friend to die. It is a heavy burden to carry —  and he is open about saying he had thought of suicide in the years after the crash — but he also says that speaking to students has given his life purpose, something that he didn’t have before the crash. 

“When I started speaking, my life changed significantly. Before the crash I was never really involved in anything. I wasn’t making a difference, my life was about skateboarding, causing trouble, and partying,”he said.  “Now I’m going to schools and inspiring young people. It’s funny how things change and how that experience I lived through really resonates with young people.”

Brooks has been speaking at schools and motivating students to have a positive impact on the world, and he is always humbled by the impact his story has on students. 

“There’s just a lot of them reaching out and expressing how it helped them,” says Brooks. “And that’s on all different levels from, ‘I’ll never drink and drive again,’ to ‘I’m a party animal I need to chill it out a bit,’ to I had a kid in Alberta come up to me after a talk five years ago, and he was crying and handed me a razor blade and a note, and the note said, 'I was going to kill myself today and you saved my life.'  These are just amazing experiences that blew my mind.”

Moving beyond

His talks have evolved over the years to cover more ground in areas like mental health, suicide prevention, self-harm, and bullying.

“People have found so many different ways that my story has impacted them,” says Brooks. “I just realized there was a bigger message than just ‘Drinking and driving is a bad choice,’ so I brought in other important messages to try and reach as many people as I possibly can.” 

Every day Brooks is spreading his story and his message to reach as many young people as possible so that they do not make the same mistakes he made.

“I thought I knew everything, and maybe some good advice would be that you’re not invincible,” he told the POST. “Every choice has a reaction and consequence. Make good choices when you’re young because it’s a big life ahead, don’t screw things up.”

Area high schools are part of the federal PARTY program (Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth) that teaches similar messages to students. The JAWS student leadership program, the local RCMP and other supporters organize presentations like the one last week.

Although nationally, drinking and driving fatalities have seen a small decrease in recent years, statistics form Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada,show that the number one cause of death among young Canadians between the ages of 15  and 25  involve motor vehicles — and of those, 50 per cent involve alcohol.