On September 26, Chris Herren, former Boston Celtic player, filled the Watertown High School auditorium with over 600 students to share his powerful story about how drug addiction derailed his life and career.
Chris Herren, co-author of his memoir “Basketball Junkie” and the subject of the Emmy Award-Nominated documentary “Unguarded,” candidly talked about his fall from grace. Herren’s story was a personal life lesson from a man who achieved his dream of playing basketball for the Celtics only to lose it all to drug addiction. Herren lost everything: his college scholarships, his NBA and European career, his money, his respect, his reputation, and a few friends along the way. He even came close to losing his life (he overdosed a few times) and his family.
Herren’s heart wrenching tale of addiction sparked conversations across classrooms at Watertown High School and in students’ homes. Students reported that in post-event classes, many teachers used class time to discuss Herren’s talk—its significance and impact. Some classes even watched his documentary, Unguarded, while other students immediately started following him on twitter.
Anne Korte, Watertown Youth Coalition member and parent, who attended the talk, said she spoke to a number of students and faculty that described the talk as “moving” and “inspirational.” According to Korte the event was a huge success, “If nothing else, it made people think—not just about substance abuse, but about changing your life, helping other people change their lives, hope, survival, acceptance, and so many other things.”
Watertown High School students were riveted by the message of the former basketball star, “He is an engaging speaker, lots of kids can relate to things he talked about,” said one Watertown High School student. “He spoke in a way that connected with the student body… the information he shared came from a real person not a teacher telling you not to do drugs.”
“He put a face to all the warning stories kids always hear about. He made addiction seem real. He showcased the real face of addiction. That it could happen to you, you never know. He had a lot going for him too.” said another Watertown High School student. “Chris Herren left a message with everyone. While it may not stop some kids from smoking marijuana it may make them think twice.”
Herren made it clear from the beginning of his talk that his goal is to make the difference in one person’s life, change one person’s mind. “It’s about getting in front of kids and relating to them,” Herren said. “I was once in the same seat that you’re in. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had paid attention when I went to substance abuse talks like this.”
He talked about being raised in Fall River, in a middle-class, two-parent home, his father a state representative and mother worked in the business sector. He didn’t believe that he and his family fit the stereotypical picture of who is commonly believed to be an addict. The stereotypical picture is wrong, Herren said, becoming an addict can happen to anyone.
Herren pointed out that many kids who start out drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana think it’s harmless, but these are gateway drugs that often lead to more dangerous drugs such as prescription pills, cocaine and heroin. This is a dangerous mindset, Herren said, because the reality is that once a young person starts experimenting they quickly spiral down a path of self destruction. He was one of the young people that drank alcohol and smoked marijuana before he started experimenting with other drugs. He believed he could handle it and would never become addicted to any substances, “I thought I was above addiction.” He goes on to say that he never met a single addict who did not start with alcohol.
Sober for four years, Herren travels the country as a motivational speaker for youth to help them build resilience and coping skills to withstand substance use when life gets difficult.
As the Watertown High School Principal, Steven Watson says, “I think Chris Herren reached more than just one at Watertown High this week!”
The event was sponsored by the Watertown Youth Coalition, Wayside Multi-Service Center and Watertown Public Schools with funds from the U.S. Department of Education Grant to Reduce Alcohol Abuse.
For more information about upcoming events or to get involved, contact Melanie St. Pierre, Community Organizer, Watertown Youth Coalition, firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on facebook and on our website: watertownyouthcoalition.org