A very cold day in early January of 1985 is at the heart of my journey to law school. On that fateful winter morning, my grandfather passed away in a hospital in Walker County, Alabama due to heart failure. He was survived by a wife, 5 children, and 4 grandchildren. Almost a month later, it would have been 5 grandchildren, because I was born in February of 1985. To this day, I wish I had met him at least once because by all accounts he was a loving man devoted to his family.
My grandmother told me many stories of their long history together and I appreciated every word she had for him. Dealing with the death of a husband is hard on any person, but her struggle was compounded when the company that my grandfather worked for denied her the benefits she rightly deserved as the widow of a mine worker whose death was hastened by Black lung Disease, otherwise known as Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis. Because my grandfather died of heart failure instead of lung disease, the company went before the Department of Labor to claim that they owed my grandmother nothing. The Department of Labor sided with the company on her claim and she was devastated. My grandfather gave his life to feed his family, and in his hour of need the company he worked for most of his life deserted his widow.
Deep in her heart, my grandmother knew that Black Lung disease caused my grandfather’s death. Toward the end of his life, she witnessed his daily struggle to breathe. Even though he did not die of lung disease, heart failure is also a complication caused by Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis. She believed that his heart disease was caused by the coal dust he inhaled almost every day of his adult life. My grandmother is not a person to sit back and take injustice. She decided she was going to fight the coal company and the Department of Labor to her last breath. From 1985 to the present, she has been through numerous appeals, motions, and even the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court.
I have listened to my grandmother curse the coal company for years, but I did not understand what she was going through until she tried to appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court. She is not a woman of means, and fighting long court battles with a company that has dozens of lawyers on retainer is an almost impossible proposition for a woman that has very little education and no money. This led her to try to appeal in forma pauperis, and she asked me to help her do so.
At this time, I was ignorant of what in forma pauperis was or how to present such an appeal to the court so I took her paperwork and researched for hours online. Finally, I found a tool to file online but I did not have access because it required an attorney code before it would let me file. I informed my grandmother of this, and she was distraught. According to her, no attorney was willing to take her case because of the expenses involved. She wanted to proceed as her own counsel, but she realized she just did not have the capability.
My heart broke that day for her. I was also enraged at the callousness of the coal company, the courts, and everyone else keeping my grandmother from the justice she deserved for her dead husband and all his sacrifices for her and her children. I had always had an interest in the legal profession growing up, but that day crystallized my desire. I knew from then on that I was going to law school one way or the other. I wanted to wield legal knowledge like a sword on a crusade to defend those like my grandmother. I wanted to beat back the hordes of lawyers the company threw at her. I wanted my grandmother to feel vindicated before she died. I wanted the memory of my grandfather to not be tainted by a faceless company. I wanted her to be proud of me.
I have made a promise to myself that If my grandmother is still alive when I graduate law school, that I will do all that is in my power to help her. I want to use my intellectual talents that I inherited in part from her to become a member of the legal profession. I am certain that the ******* School of law will give me the opportunity to fulfill that promise to myself. One day, hopefully my grandmother can rest easy knowing that her grandson is helping her with all of his ability.
Going beyond the scope of my grandmother, ** Law can provide me the training I need to help thousands of grandmothers, sons, daughters, and fathers like her. My wish is to see everyone have proper legal representation. In the future, I hope no grandson has to listen to his grandmother sadly recount her failed legal battle without hope of reprieve due to a lack of means and ability.
Any tips or comments would be appreciated.