Thanks to the sponsorship of AB United Way and the PTSO, Former NBA star Chris Herren shared his story about overcoming substance abuse with more than 1,200 community members on January 9th. From being an internationally acclaimed athlete to being a homeless “junkie” father, Chris discussed the negative impact his life decisions made on his family, friends and career, and laid out the consequences of following similar paths. His own problems having risen initially in high school, Chris directs his message to at-risk teens and travels nationwide to advocate for sobriety among youth. With his non-profit foundation, The Herren Project, Chris has supported thousands of young people in their fight to overcome addiction. He himself has been drug and alcohol-free since August 1, 2008.
“When I was your age, I sat in the same seats as you, and listened to an old guy like me say the same things as I am saying now.” He begins. The auditorium is literally overflowing, with additional live-feed rooms across the school for the many who could not find seating in the main room. Chris disregarded the brightly lit stage and stood level with the audience, coming in close contact with the front row. With the microphone in his right hand, the lack of a podium gave him free range; the entire audience experienced a higher degree of intimacy. “But I had the nerve to laugh it off, and not listen.” Chris goes on to describe the pivotal moments which dragged him deeper into substance abuse.
Chris reached out to the audience on a more personal level than any other speaker or program could do. A story of crisp honesty, Chris’s tacit message was more effective than any conspicuous “say no to drugs” lecture. Parent of two ABRHS students, Kathleen Sullivan thinks that “he de-romanticized what I think we all learn about the drug and substance abuse culture from the popular media,” she says. “Clearly we see the bad impact, but what we don’t see is the really gritty dirty lengths that people have to go to in order to feed their addiction.” From hiding the true purpose of his daily Dunkin’ Donuts trips from family to barely evading a life-sentence in Turkish prison, Chris never shied away from detail in portraying the raw truth.
Chris interacted question and answer session. He shared his thoughts on parental guidance (a father of three), his habits in maintaining sobriety, and his many regrets in life. As a parent he supports drug testing, though he believes “it’s not about what’s in [the] system, it’s about why it’s in there.” He told an emotional story about not being able to shave in a mirror for years out of self-disgust. Lastly, he does not think the athlete celebrity status was worth both the internal struggles he faced and the destructive impact his choices had on his children.
Senior Nikita Khan says “to me, Chris did more than reinforce the dangers of drugs. He made me realize that your problems don’t just burden yourself, but also everyone around you.”
“Our hope is that Chris Herren Project will help give youth the confidence to be who they are and not rely on alcohol and drugs,” say Karen Herther, a parent and member of the United Way Outreach Committee.
“If it helped even one person to recognize a problem in themselves, or a friend, to reach out and get help, that is incredible service,” says Dr. Callen. She also hopes that Chris’s message will raise awareness among students to support each other in living healthy lifestyles and being sober; the hope springs from a story Chris told about meeting a group of students who were mocked for being part of the school’s sobriety club. Dr. Callen and the rest of the ABRHS administration are working diligently to continue Chris’s message long after he leaves; they have coordinated a number of student and parent seminars on substance abuse to be held in the spring, as well as related faculty training sessions. Says Dr. Callen, “We have some momentum going now, and we have to continue it.”