A few weeks ago, Connie Lum contacted me on Facebook letting me know about her nephew and her work around mental health issues. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I “sat down” and asked her a few questions about herself, her nephew and the Justice for Jeremy Project. Here are her responses:
Who is Connie Lum Perez?
By profession, I’m an early childhood educator with more than 30 years experience. My day job as a preschool owner/director is very rewarding and gives me opportunities to impact young lives in the best possible way every day. Even the youngest of children learn lessons in compassion, humanity, and acceptance. These are my most favorite lessons to teach. Besides, working with children is good therapy.
Personally, I’ve always been an optimist. I try to find the best in any given situation or person. Even in the worst of situations, I look for the glimmer of hope. I am forever the optimist and very rarely ever give up.
What is the JUSTICE FOR JEREMY project and how did you become involved?
My nephew, Jeremy Lum was smart, athletic, and an inspiration to his family and friends. In 2009, at age 29, he was looking forward to a new career as a traveling nurse. He had finished his studies at UC Berkeley and decided that as a traveling nurse, it would be his way to see the world while at the same time, do worthwhile work. Jeremy was 25 years old and a student at Cal when he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This condition, historically called Manic Depressive Disorder, typically develops in young adulthood. It is a mood disorder characterized by extreme highs and lows. There may also be psychotic breaks or episodes.
It was while Jeremy was in an episode, that he was mistakenly arrested and jailed for public intoxication. Even after telling the officer at the jail he had bipolar disorder, was on medication and under the care of a doctor, he was left unseen by medical professionals, as required by law. He was released the next morning, without ID, without a phone call to family or friends or a safe means to get home. Tragically, Jeremy’s body was found days later in the river which runs behind the jail. He had drowned.
The tragic loss of Jeremy stunned not only my family and me, but an entire community. My belief in a system that safeguards the lives of the young, elderly, and those who are most ill and fragile was shattered. In the most senseless and needless manner, Jeremy was gone and I just couldn’t understand it. Never had I felt such a deep sense of hopelessness. The optimist in me was very troubled. There had to be something more we could do.
It was in that same year that JUSTICE FOR JEREMY was established to campaign to promote positive awareness of mental illness. We have since become an organization that provides support and resources for those affected by mental health issues, even assisting in searches for individuals who are in a mental health crisis and have gone missing.
In 10 years, what do you hope people will be saying about JUSTICE FOR JEREMY?
In 10 years, I would like JUSTICE FOR JEREMY to be known for playing a pivotal role in the movement to require more training in mental health awareness for first responders, most often law enforcement, to help identify and distinguish behavioral issues and symptoms in those they come across.
I would like people to say that JUSTICE FOR JEREMY helped change the stigma and the general public’s understanding of mental illness and how it affects every single one of us in some way. Most of us know someone affected by mental illness, perhaps with our own family members, co-workers, friends and other loved ones.
It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century, mental illness is still so misunderstood. It’s a subject most people would rather not talk about, may cause you to look the other way and believe it will never affect you or your loved ones. However, mental illness has no boundaries.
In 10 years, I hope people will still remember Jeremy Lum, Mitrice Richardson, Kelly Thomas, and all of the others who lost their lives unnecessarily, due in large part to the ignorance and misinformation about mental illness. I hope that our grassroots Justice For Jeremy movement will have played a huge role in bringing forth compassion and understanding of mental illness where there was a lack of, or sadly, none.
We welcome you to our annual events. They’re always a lot of fun and very family friendly. Dates for these events are on our website and announced on Facebook.
Donations are gratefully accepted and may be sent to:
JUSTICE FOR JEREMY LATHROP CA INC.
P.O. Box 1415, Lathrop, CA, 95330
Pay it forward a bit. Let us know about a couple of organizations or people who are doing good work in the world:
Two organizations that are a source of information and assistance to us are:
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): “At the heart of NAMI’s mission is our grassroots and the sharing of information with people with mental illness, their families, friends, mental health professionals, and the general public. NAMI strives to offer hope, reform and health to our American community through support, education and advocacy efforts.”
Social Planet.org: Social Planet is a philanthropic network that helps connect people with grassroots causes and projects from around the world. They do this by helping anyone find, follow and become involved with things that are important to them.Our mission is to improve the human condition and protect the natural environment -one person, one place, and one project at a time. One unique aspect of Social Planet is that 100% of member donations go directly to the project of their choice. At no time are donated funds used to run the organization or other overhead expenses. Those expenses are covered by individual philanthropists and corporate sponsorship.
This Be the Change post is part of an ongoing commitment to lift-up fascinating who people I meet during my travels. These are folks who are doing the hard work of changing the world for the better by living out their passions and sharing their gifts. Subjects are chosen by me, so if you know of a person or project that you think is doing something that is making the world a more just, compassionate and peaceful place, please let me know.