WINTHROP – Two girls sitting in the bleachers held hands for most of the presentation. One cried, the other gave her a tissue. They waited to speak as former Celtics basketball player Chris Herren wrapped up his talk about drugs and alcohol at Winthrop High School Monday morning.
One girl stood in front of her entire school and shared that she had been bullied for years. She told Herren that she was inspired by him. They hugged. Next to her it was clear her friend was also touched.
“I had been clean for 74 days until last night I put a needle in my arm,” she told a reporter as the gathering broke up. She was emotional, feeling sick, and hoping to meet Herren one on one if his schedule permitted.
Herren, introduced by Olympic great Mike Eruzione, addressed a packed gymnasium as part of Wellness Week, talking about his addiction struggle, his children, life choices and how he hoped to reach at least one student at every school he visits around the United States.
Having spoken to over a million high school students around the United States, Herren said he knows that high school students think they’re not doing anything harmful when just “drinking or smoking on the weekends.” But Herren knows it often leads to the abuse of harder drugs. He knows because he lived a life abusing drugs and throwing away a promising basketball career.
This year he has launched The Purple Project, developed when Herren spoke at a high school and the front row of students were wearing purple shirts. After Herren shared his story, one of the purple shirts raised her hand and stood up to speak. The student said “Thank you Mr. Herren for validating what we do. We are the sober students of this high school and each year we take a pledge to not use drugs or alcohol.” Herren was captured by the courage it took to not only stand up and share the symbolism of the purple shirts, but was inspired to make a difference amongst adolescents across the United States.
So far in Winthrop this year there have been five overdoses due to heroin. Herren, who lives in Rhode Island now is a Fall River native. He has two children and knows the damage his life has caused.
“Because of me my children are 40 more times likely to struggle with addiction,” Herren said. “It breaks my heart. The pills at parties on weekends are killing two-times more people than heroin or crack. Kids still laugh about pills, but those pills turn into needles, man.”
He talked about being a teen himself and partying in the basement – his and others. Who ever thought it would lead to addiction. “This is 2015, you know what drugs do. Why pick up and start the process?”
“I pray that I walk out of this gym today and someone says they want to be better,” Herren said. “There’s no limitation when you stay sober.”
Sue Ellen Woodcock can be reached at [email protected]