Chris Herren Visits WA

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Herren poses with the Project Purple group.

Herren poses with the Project Purple group.

By Ciara Barstow
Staff Writer

During the last two hours of the school day on December 16th, 2014, the founder of the Project Purple, Chris Herren himself, visited Westford Academy to talk about his experience with substance abuse.

The event started with a video that introduced Herren and the road he took to sobriety.

As a former star basketball player for the Boston Celtics, Chris Herren had it all. However, in high school, Herren took up the habit of using, then abusing addictive substances. He has remained sober for over 6 years, but doesn’t intend to stop there. He now coaches basketball and gives over 250 presentations a year about his struggle with addiction.

After being welcomed by the advisor, Melanie Jozokos, and members of Project Purple, Herren took the stage in the gymnasium, where the seniors and juniors were. Freshmen and sophomores watched a video streaming of the presentation in the PAC.

The presentation opened with Herren sharing a few personal experiences.

“Four and a half years ago, when I started this, I truly believe that I could have walked into a school and tell my story, I could make an impact,” said Herren. “But as I continued on this path I realized that it needs to be more about you than me.”

He described how the Project Purple was created, along with different stories other teenagers have shared with him.

Herren presenting in front of the juniors and seniors

Herren presenting in front of the juniors and seniors

Unlike many motivational speakers, Herren did not focus as much on the end result of substance abuse, but instead shared his knowledge of the first day that usually leads into a long-lasting addiction.

“I think you kids are too familiar with the last day, or with the final hours, what they look like at the end. We don’t teach you or talk to you about day one. Day one looks just like you. […] That’s the first page of every drug addict’s story,” he said.

The support he offered and the advice he shared touched the conscience of many students, and inspired a couple brave people to ask him questions.

However, some of the sophomores and freshmen were disappointed that they were only able to see a streaming of the presentation Herren gave to the seniors and juniors. Jozokos explained that the reason they had to have the students divided was because the fire department said it was unsafe to have so many people in one place at once.

“But,” she said, “Future-wise, we will definitely take that into consideration.”

On the same day in the evening, Herren gave a similar presentation that was open to the community. The event was held in the PAC, and almost every seat was taken. Herren provided more detailed accounts of the experiences he shared with the school just hours before. The impactful speech left tears in the eyes of listeners.

“In other presentations, kids don’t really see the effects that it can have on someone,” said senior and Project Purple member Lexi Popp, “But with him coming in and actually telling the whole story and saying from experience that this can happen to you, I think that it just touches people more than just watching a video or seeing someone on a screen. […] It is a real thing and it does happen.”

Herren talking with members of the group

Herren talking with members of the group

Different organizations from around the community sponsored Herren’s visit, such as Westford Against Substance Abuse, WASA.

Deemed a success by students of the school as well as staff, according to Jozokos, the Project Purple organization had over 150 pledged members by the end of the night.

For an opinion on the changes that should be made to drug education, click here.

For an opinion about “telling on” someone who is using drugs, click here.