On Tuesday, Feb. 4, former NBA basketball player Chris Herren visited Kingswood Oxford to speak to the community about his personal battle with substance abuse, prevention education, and the disease of addiction.
The star of Durfee High School in his home town of Fall River, Mass., Mr. Herren was named All-American and scored over 2,000 points. He began his collegiate career at Boston College but later transferred to California State University in Fresno, Cal. for a fresh start after failing drug tests.
Mr. Herren’s first two years at Fresno were very successful as he was named to the All-WAC first team in 1996 and 1997; however, halfway through his junior season he publicly announced that he needed to take time off to undergo treatment for his ongoing struggle with substance use.
Despite these setbacks, Mr. Herren achieved his dream of playing in the NBA when he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1999. He was then traded to the Boston Celtics in 2000.
Unfortunately, during this time, Mr. Herren started to use prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and eventually became addicted to heroin.
A serious injury eventually ended his NBA career but Mr. Herren continued to play basketball in Turkey, Italy, Poland, Iran, and China, where he continued to struggle with addiction.
When Mr. Herren stopped playing basketball, he ended up living on the streets. He was charged with a DUI and overdosed several times. His fourth overdose caused his heart to stop for 30 seconds before paramedics were able to revive him. When he woke up from this near death experience, he left the hospital and decided to make a change. With hard work coupled with the support from his family and friends, Mr. Herren is now 10 years sober.
The road to recovery was long and painful, but Mr. Herren turned something bad into something good. In order to spread awareness, Mr. Herren now travels the world sharing his story. His goal, according to HerrenTalks.com is to “challenge audiences to uncover their ‘why’ and to look within to create change.” Through Herren Talks, he has spoken to over 1 million people including high school and college students, professional athletes, and members of the military.
In addition to public speaking, Mr. Herren founded the Herren Project in 2011. According to HerrenTalks.com, the nonprofit organization “empowers schools and communities to make healthy choices, while also guiding families through recovery.”
Mr. Herren also founded Herren Wellness, a rehabilitation program that helps patients overcome addiction by helping them lead substance-free lives.
During his presentation at KO, Mr. Herren showed an ESPN video entitled “Chris Herren: The First Day.” Throughout his presentation, Mr. Herren emphasized the importance of the first day over the worst day to explain the process of addiction.
Mr. Herren also warned the audience about how our choices affect the people around us. He explained how he tore his family apart, and how he disappointed teammates, coaches, and fans who believed in him.
Finally, Mr. Herren encouraged students who have personally been affected by substance abuse or who know of someone who needs help to have the courage to speak up.
He talked about how the culture of peer pressure that surrounds substance abuse is dangerous, and the ways in which teenagers can make healthy decisions.
Mr. Herren’s message had a powerful impact on the KO community. “This was one of the few assemblies that I can remember where everyone was silent for the entire time,” senior Sophia Kaufman said. “He was really engaged with the audience and grabbed your attention.”
Senior Ethan Brown said he agreed that the assembly was impactful. “I can see why some people felt like his approach was aggressive, but I think that’s what makes it so effective,” Ethan said. “Sometimes that’s the best way to get the point across, especially regarding such an important topic.”
Other students had a different perspective. “I found it to be very thought-provoking,” senior Juliana Kulak said. “But I wish he focused more on the nicotine industry and how it is manipulating high schoolers because I think that is something more of us can relate to. Still, he was a captivating speaker who definitely connected with the audience on an emotional level.”
Dean of Students William Gilyard said that it is important for KO to bring in speakers like Mr. Herren.
“I received many phone calls and letters from parents about conversations they had with their kids,” Mr. Gilyard said. “Even if only one person comes away with something then that is enough to make Mr. Herren’s visit worthwhile.”
Guidance Counselor Chasity Rodriguez said she believes that the most important part of this assembly was that it gave students a moment to reflect on how they are self-medicating. “Teenagers do not need substances to have a good time or to be their true selves,” Ms. Rodriguez said.
Due to the gravity of Mr. Herren’s talk, many students felt like there should have been advisee group after the assembly.
“It was hard to immediately refocus on school because a lot of people had questions,” Juliana said. “I was supposed to have a test the next period, but my teacher cancelled it. We ended up spending the whole time talking about the assembly.”
People continued to have these conversations weeks after Mr. Herren left.
According to Mr. Gilyard, KO plans to continue to bring in more speakers like Mr. Herren in the future in hopes of educating and inspiring students to lead healthy lives.