Former NBA basketball player Chris Herren said he remembered sitting in assemblies “like this” and thinking, “This is a joke. Why am I here? I’ll never be that guy.”
Herren’s visit was arranged by Godwin parents and by Project Purple to address substance problems at Godwin and nationwide.
He spoke on Monday, April 25 to parents and focused more on his story. The assembly on Tuesday, April 26 for students was to address the problem of substance abuse among teenagers. This assembly was supposed to take place in the winter but was postponed due to weather.
The assembly was held to inspire students who are struggling with drugs or who have loved ones struggling with drugs to speak up and evaluate the cause of the problem.
According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, it has been two years since the Godwin administrators have realized that the use of drugs among students was increasing.
Godwin principal Beth Smith told the Richmond Times Dispatch, “[The drug problem] really cuts across all different segments of the population, you really start to re-evaluate what you thought you knew.”
Herren’s life was taken over by drugs. He started drinking and smoking pot as a freshman in high school and snorted his first line of cocaine at age 18 which “opened doors that he was not able to close for 15 years.”
He started at Boston College but was dismissed due to failed drug tests. He received a second chance at Fresno State. Herren was selected by the Denver Nuggets during the second round of the 1999 NBA draft. He was later traded to the Boston Celtics.
Herren was introduced to the painkiller oxycodone and “it became an everyday physical addiction.”
After going to two rehabilitation centers for treatment and being sober since August 1, 2008, Herren now teaches basketball, a suggestion from a friend in recovery. Herren speaks 250 times a year, sharing his story to over one million students and athletes across the country.
However, he regrets not taking similar assemblies seriously when he was in high school. Herren said, “In 1994, I had the opportunity to sit in a gymnasium just like this. Now, I would give anything to go back to 1994 and listen.”
According to Herren, there are always kids struggling no matter where he goes. Along with those kids, there are always students that make fun of those that don’t drink or do drugs.
This prompted Herren to ask, “Could you please explain to me what’s funny about a 15 or 16 year old kid that doesn’t have to do drugs?”
He said that teenagers now rely on drugs because being themselves is not enough for them. Speaking to the students, he said, “I find it really sad that at such a young age, you’ve lost the ability to be you 24/7.”
Herren wants students to step back and re-evaluate who they have become. He wants them to take the issue more seriously and help themselves and their friends.
“You’re going to wish you were a better friend. You’re going to wish you never laughed at it,” said Herren.
Herren also encourages students to be better role models for their younger siblings. He said that younger siblings look up to their older siblings, so he told students to ask themselves if they really wanted their sisters and brothers to be like them.
Herren told the story of a middle school boy who tried to be like his older siblings but overdosed. Herren said, “He died trying to be like his big sister. He passed away trying to follow his big brother’s footsteps.”
The goal of Herren’s visit was to help students who are struggling before it is too late. Herren said that he wants at least one student to walk away with the goal of becoming better.
Herren said, “Today is a chance for you to do it different…to ask yourself the tough question ‘Why’. Why are you chasing death for that feeling?”
Herren’s motivational words inspired many Godwin kids to stand in front of a crowd of hundreds and share how drugs and addiction alike have affected their lives.
Senior Mallory Burnett stood and addressed the crowd about how she has dealt with a family member’s addiction. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, she said, “He’s sober now. But I’ll never forget sending him a message on Facebook … telling him I didn’t want to have to write his eulogy.”
Godwin student Andrew Nelson who is currently recovering from a drug addiction said that even though his story is different from Herren’s, he could identify with the pain.
The Project Purple, developed by Herren, promotes standing up against substance abuse through sobriety. Herren encourages students at Godwin to develop a similar mindset.
This is something Jenny Derr, mother of Billy Derr, who attended Godwin, believes in as well. She introduced Herren by thanking Project Purple and speaking about her son’s experience. She said, “It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way.”
According to Herren, adults have to be involved in the process to help. Kids cannot handle it on their own.
A problem in trying to prevent the use of drugs among teenagers is that people are only told about the consequences and worst case scenarios of drug use. Instead, the root cause of why kids drink and do drugs in the first place needs to be identified.
Herren said, “We need to focus on day one, not the last day.”
During the assembly, Herren encouraged students who are struggling to reach out for help instead of facing it alone. He told students, “No one can help you unless they hear you.”
Herren wants his message to be delivered to students, and he wants them to take action beyond just listening during the assembly. He said, “It doesn’t end with me walking away.”