Chang­ing the con­ver­sa­tion on ad­dic­tion

Times-Record - - News - By DENAE SPIERING dspier­ing@ches­pub.com

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.

PHOTO BY DUSTIN HOLT

Caro­line County Project Pur­ple mem­bers come to­gether for a meet­ing at the Ch­e­sa­peake Culi­nary Cen­ter in Den­ton.

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