Changing the conversation on addiction
DENTON — Caroline County Project Purple Organization helped bring former NBA player Chris Herren to Colonel Richardson and North Caroline high schools to speak with students about addiction.
Herren met with North Caroline students on Monday, Sept. 18, and Colonel students on Wednesday, Sept. 20. The talks centered around his personal battle with addiction, stemming from use of painkillers.
Though the talks to the students were not open to the public, Herren did speak at an open meeting Tuesday, Sept. 19, at Easton High School as part of the Talbot Goes Purple campaign.
He addressed close to 1,000 people who donned purple and wanted to learn about addiction and how to take on the battle to stop the epidemic in its tracks.
“When it comes to addiction we focus so much on the worst day and we forget the first day,” Herren said. “We want to talk about how many people are dying, instead of where our children are beginning.”
Herren himself struggled with drug dependency, and formed THP Project Purple, on which Talbot Goes Purple is based.
Talbot Goes Purple is an initiative that started with Talbot County Sheriff Joe Gamble and blossomed under the help of Lucie Hughes and Tidewater Rotary. The project’s goal is to empower the youth and the community to “go purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse.
Herren travels the country giving talks to professional sports teams, educators, high school students and communities in hopes of not only spreading awareness but providing a conversational outlet for parents and teachers to talk with children in order to reduce substance abuse among younger generations.
Having Herren come to Talbot County and speak to not only the community but to high school students in the area was a dream for Gamble, and Herren said seeing not only a town but a county embrace his message was a dream for him as well.
“I am honored that a community like this not only has the faith in me but in my message,” Herren said. “So to come into a town and see them completely embrace it is a dream come true — it’s the honest to God truth, this is a dream come true.”
The event began at 7 p.m., and the auditorium was packed with government officials, county leaders and most importantly, families.
The message of the night was the power of addiction and how it can take over an individual’s life — mainly Herren’s own life. He spoke about his journey to recovery and the challenges of being a parent with an addiction and how that affected his children’s lives.
He told the crowd where his struggles started and about the many times he failed at recovery. He explained in great detail how the thoughts of suicide had consumed him and he shared what was able to save him from himself and his addiction.
Herren challenged the crowd to think differently about drinking and trying drugs as a “rite of passage” for kids.
“Stop telling your kids that high school is the best years of their lives,” Herren said. “Don’t let your kids drink in basements with their friends. Don’t provide those safe spaces to drink.”
He said instead offer them a place to talk and feel safe, and let kids know that it is okay to be who they are.
Herren’s speech was powerful and resonated with several people in the audience.
Jason Clearly, 30, Michael Bowen, 30, Kelby Brinegir, 27, and two other men drove over from Annapolis for the event. The five men said they are all in recovery and that Herren’s message hit home for them, especially when it came to being a parent and facing these types of challenges.
There were lots of families that attended the event with young children and said they felt the experience was amazing and necessary.
David Washington of Easton attended the event with his two young sons ages 5 and 10, and said it was good exposure for his children.
“They chose to to do this tonight. They missed football practice to come see this,” Washington said. “We (had) seen it on ESPN and they said they wanted to come rather than go to practice.”
Jill Sherwood of Cordova brought her family to the event and said it was important for them to hear the message.
“Because of the epidemic, I am worried for my children,” Sherwood said. “I have a 13- and 10-year-old and I think it is really important to put it out there. If you don’t put it out there and give them the chance to talk about it someone else will talk to them about it. It is sad that I have to tell my 10-year-old about it, but I do.”
Sherwood said the event was amazing and that Herren has a purpose in this world and that spreading this message is it.
Both Gamble and Herren said the important thing is to continue the movement and to keep the message in the forefront of everyone’s mind, especially with the youth in the community.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Herren said. “To drive through this downtown to see the purple lights, the teachers, the administrators, totally get behind this is really, really special, and I hope this message is sustainable and the students embrace it, without them getting behind it, it’s hard.”
He said the kids are the ones who drive the message and keep it going.
“They have to embrace that wellness message and being better to themselves and being role models for their younger brothers and sisters,” Herren said. “I think that if they get behind it and stay with it and it will be amazing.”
Gamble said the fight and the movement in Talbot County will continue. The longevity and the reduction of lives lost to heroin and opioids is Gamble’s main focus.
“We need to stay vigilant and we need to share those messages. We need to educate, educate, educate the next generation and continue the education to parents and grandparents,” Gamble said. “This encompasses our whole community and it is so important. At the end of September when lights start to go off and we take the lights down we are going to continue.”
For more information about Talbot Goes Purple visit talbotgoespurple.org.
Caroline County Project Purple members come together for a meeting at the Chesapeake Culinary Center in Denton.