Chris Herren, former National Basketball Association player and recovering drug addict, is the founder of the non-profit foundation THP Project Purple that assists individuals and families struggling with addiction. The THP Project Purple initiative was launched to break the stigma of addiction, bring awareness to the dangers of substance abuse and encourage positive decision making to navigate life’s challenges. For additional information, visit the web site http://thpprojectpurple.org/the-project/.
Last Wednesday, Herren addressed a large audience of parents, students, teachers and community members at Council Rock North High School during a program organized by SADD and sponsored Council Rock alum Chris Mahoney. Photos provided courtesy of Donna Longacre Photography. Herren is featured in a compelling ESPN 30 for 30 movie Unguarded that can be viewed at the following link: https://vimeo.com/79305689
NEWTOWN - Stephanie Warshaw scanned the crowd that filled the auditorium at Council Rock North High School to hear Chris Herren’s story and knew that many would benefit.
“We do so many levels of interventions in our jobs,” the Council Rock social worker said after Herren – a former NBA player and recovering drug addict – spoke to a spellbound audience. “We do one-on-one meetings, we do classroom presentations, we do group sessions, we do formal interventions, and we do assemblies and things like this.
“Every intervention has a different impact on every individual student. Like he said – if this can make a difference in one person. I’m sitting here thinking of my caseload, and I’m thinking, ‘I saw so and so here, I saw so and so.’ If this can help one person, it’s worth it. It’s worth it. To me, this is a piece of the puzzle that we put together to support students in our district. This is another level of intervention.”
There is something in Herren’s message for everybody.
On Wednesay night, he shared his personal battle with drug addiction that culminated when – at 32 years old - he found himself in his hometown hospital in Fall River, Mass., after overdosing on heroin and crashing his car.
Fourteen years earlier, Herren was a basketball star at Durfee High School in Fall River. He was named to the McDonald’s All-America team and was on the wish list of college coaches across the country. Herren was – in his own words – “the kid in the city with the brightest future and the biggest dreams.”
“Now, 14 years later, I’m that city’s biggest loser,” he said. “I walked in to see doctors who used to beg me to come to their kids’ birthday parties, nurses who used to beg to have their pictures taken with me – now they wouldn’t even look at me.”
Herren – after completing intensive rehabilitation programs – has been alcohol and drug-free since Aug. 1, 2008.
“I still have those moments that I look back with regret, but the beauty of living one day at a time – I have eight-and-a-half years of one day a time,” Herren said. “To me what that means is that it’s eight-and-a-half years since my family had to cry. It’s been eight-and-a-half years since they picked up the phone and had breaking heart news.
“It’s just one day at a time. People want to talk about the stigma. Stop showing drug addicts at the end. If I asked every kid – draw me a picture of a drug addict. The kids are going to go back to class and draw the toughest, hardest picture they can possibly think of of an addict. How come nobody draws an altar boy, a hockey player, a judge, a teacher, a pilot? How come nobody draws those?
“Oh, because drug addicts are somebody totally different. They don’t look like us, they don’t grow up next to us, they don’t wear what we wear, they don’t drive what we drive. I just put a judge in treatment a few days ago. Don’t tell me what an addict looks like. Stop preaching the ending and address the beginning.”
For students in attendance, Wednesday night’s presentation hit home.
“He definitely speaks in a very powerful way,” said Rock North junior Eric Hoefer, a member of the baseball team. “He definitely knows how to tell a story so that it sinks in with you.
“His story – it’s crazy. It’s so crazy, and it really makes you think. I think it changes how you see other people in your school. You might not know what they’re going through. It definitely gives you perspective.”
“It’s definitely genuine to hear it firsthand,” said Rock North senior Shaun Smith, a member of the basketball team. “Instead of someone saying, ‘Oh, this is bad for you.’ To hear it firsthand knowing he experienced all this stuff definitely touches you, definitely gets to people the way they think about partying, the way they think about life.”
Carly Blair is a member of Council Rock North’s soccer team.
“Just hearing him from a certain perspective - he was such a sports star, and at North, there’s so much talent,” she said. “I feel like it hits home more than just some random guy.
“His story really shows a lot more. It could happen to one of us. You can be a superstar, and it still could happen to you. I think him having the background of a basketball player and making it to the top – that gives kids more perspective.
“You really can’t judge a book by its cover. It can happen to anybody, and you don’t know anybody’s situation until you actually get to know them.”
Herren’s message to the parents in attendance was simple – don’t look the other way but rather ask why.
“Asking why is critical,” Herren said. “To me, that’s the most powerful thing – to sit them down and ask them why. Parents are afraid of the answer, so they don’t ask, and kids are too embarrassed to tell them.
“I’m a father of teenagers, and hopefully, for most parents, there’s not pain that comes with that answer, but for a lot of parents there is. That’s part of early intervention, and it’s part of understanding the struggle your child is going through.”
Herren, who was heading to the University of Alabama the following morning to speak to the football team, has 250 speaking engagements a year. If Thursday night’s response during a question and answer period is any indication, Herren’s visit will help far more than one person and could be laying the groundwork for change within the district.
All costs for the event – including Herren’s speaking fee – are paid by Chris Mahoney, a 1999 graduate of Council Rock who was a member of the football, basketball and baseball teams. The proceeds from ticket sales will go to Athletes Helping Athletes.