One of the things I love most about music is its ability to transform tragedy into hope, as anyone who has listened obsessively to a "breakup song" knows. But, as artists like Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Joan Baez, and countless others have shown, songs can do more than comfort. They can change who we are as a culture and inspire us to work together to make the world a better place.
So, when I first met with a group of advanced music production students at the
A Life Lost to Addiction
The high school class of eight fledgling producers, songwriters, rappers, and musicians were all highly enthusiastic about the project. When considering issues to address, they reflected on the senseless 2010 death of a schoolmate, 16-year-old Haley Paternoster, of a heroin overdose. It turned out almost all of us had seen someone—a friend, a family member—destroyed by addiction, whether from heroin, prescription drugs like OxyContin, or alcohol. Haley’s death offered us a tragic common bond.
The class decided to make an album of original hip-hop music focused on addiction, dedicated to Haley's memory. Her father, Steve Paternoster, a local restaurateur, talk show host, and philanthropist, talked to our class several times. His words were raw, real, and deeply moving. Other students, also touched by addiction, began sharing personal stories, allowing us to begin working through our losses and permitting us to dive in, fully aware and sensitive to how addiction can wreck lives.
Haley, We Miss You
It took just 2 weeks to complete the title track, "Haley, We Miss You." We pushed forward. It was very important to the students that we keep the message real, unlike many other antidrug education programs they had experienced in the school system. We wanted an album to be thoughtful and hard hitting while keeping in mind the many complexities surrounding the issue.
The students composed songs about the power of music, the apparent contradictions of the "war on drugs," and the hardships of growing up in the rougher parts of our hometown. They wrote about the dangers of prescription painkillers and how advertisers try to manipulate youth to buy their products. We looked at addiction as part of the larger context of the mental and emotional health of our community.
Jennifer Weiss of the Albuquerque Heroin Awareness Committee, whose son Cameron had overdosed after a long struggle with heroin addiction, approached us. Cameron was a poet and rapper who, before he died, had composed and partially recorded a song about his struggle, "A One Way Track To Hell." It was a haunting and powerful work that unknowingly foreshadowed Cameron’s death; we accepted the challenge of completing the backing music and remixing the song to include in the album.
A CD for Every 8th Grader in Albuquerque
The album was just the first step. Our ultimate goal: to produce a CD for every 8th grader in Albuquerque. Prevention experts suggest that 8th graders are at the highest risk for experimenting with opioid painkillers, usually in the form of OxyContin, which was the case for Haley before switching to heroin. We felt the best approach was to try to reach out to kids at risk of using before they start.
Our label, "SoundOven," was created both as a musical identity and as the name for the organization we wanted to launch using music and film as media for positive social change. We knew we needed a budget for CD duplication, printing costs, and a music video. So, we started a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo asking for help. The fundraising appeal has concluded, but you can still check out our pitch video.
We received an overwhelming response: in 90 days, we had raised more than $10,000. Haley’s dad Steve was personally very generous, but we also got a big helping hand when the Albuquerque Journal did a front-page story on our campaign, subsequently picked up in local TV newscasts. In the end, more than 100 people from 5 countries contributed to our cause.
The Mission Continues
I could not be prouder of my students, Floyd Moya, Robert Serrano, Falon Cole, Ruben Valenzuela, Caelan Harris, Issac Leeman, Alex Wilson, Quinlan Spears, and Alex Torres. Their creativity, passion, and dedication makes me excited to get up every morning to do this work.
But the work is not yet done. We now have 2,000 copies of the finished CD to place into the hands of youth at risk for opioid addiction—which could really be anyone. We are coordinating with the heroin awareness committee and Albuquerque Public Schools substance abuse counselors, the culmination of our yearlong effort.
Blake Minnerly is a musician, filmmaker, and educator whose passion is helping young people make meaningful, professional media projects that advocate for positive social change in their communities. Besides his work at the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School, he plays in several bands and does freelance soundtrack composition, sound design, and editing. He is currently in the process of incorporating SoundOven as an independent nonprofit to continue and expand the project started in his advanced music production class.
- The Albuquerque film office for securing locations and permits from the city at no cost
- The Film Tech program at the Community College of New Mexico for raising our production values exponentially with their outstanding equipment and talented students
- The Mount Olive Baptist Church for generously lending their facility and the talented voices of their choir
Let me introduce you to Taylor-a 17-year old, high school athlete from Plano, Texas. You might be a student-athlete yourself or have friends who are student athletes, so Taylor’s story might speak especially to you.
Taylor took his own life on July 15, 2003, as a result of abusing steroids. With Taylor’s death came the Taylor Hooton Foundation formed by his parents, family, and friends to honor his memory, after they became aware of the growing problem among high school athletes across the country. Not too long before Taylor’s death, NIDA noticed a sharp increase in the use of steroids among male teens in the late 1990s (Monitoring the Future Survey, 2008).
Unfortunately, I never met Taylor—wish I had gotten the opportunity—but I have met his dad, Don Hooton. Don is the type of guy that many of us aspire to be. I’ve had the opportunity to work with him and the Taylor Hooton Foundation on behalf of NIDA. The picture to the right is us at a Nationals game in DC. I’m sitting with pitcher Garrett Mock (L) and center fielder Willie Harris (R) (Who said work can’t be fun?) We’ve been working together with the goal of sharing Taylor’s story and helping teens help one another.
In memory of Taylor, please share his story with a friend. With your help, we can prevent another tragedy.
Learn more about the science behind steroid use and how it can affect your body.
Bio: Brian Marquis is a Public Liaison Officer at NIDA who connects with organizations across the country to prevent drug abuse among youth with the help of NIDA publications and Web sites. In his spare time he enjoys playing sports, working out, going to the beach, and playing baseball with his son.
Have you ever felt like you couldn’t make good decisions because none of your friends agreed? Well, you’re definitely not alone. Take a look at these teens who wanted to be healthier and took a stand on teen alcohol and drug use by joining the Illinois Drug Education Alliance (IDEA)—no matter what their friends thought.
Even on Halloween, this group of teens ditched the typical party scene and got creative. They went trick-or-treating, but with a twist. Instead of asking for candy, they gave out brain-shaped stress balls and educated people on the harmful effects alcohol has on the teen brain.
“We all experience peer pressure, but not all peer pressure has to be negative. IDEA gives me a circle of friends who share my choice for a healthy lifestyle. Together, we encourage our peers to make smarter choices.”
—IDEA Youth Board member
Student members of the IDEA team, known as the Youth Board, work together to positively influence healthy decision-making in their schools and in their communities. They want every teen to understand that underage drinking isn’t the norm and that not everyone is doing it.
The Sara Bellum Blog had the opportunity to interview a few members of the IDEA Youth Board to get the 411 on their activities. You might be inspired by these ordinary teens who use their time in extraordinary ways.
Sara Bellum Blog (SBB): When was the Youth Board formed and why?
IDEA Youth Board (YB): IDEA was created in 1982 by a group of parents who quickly realized that the best way to reach teens is through other teens. At first, the board consisted of sons and daughters of IDEA members, but it quickly grew to include youth from all over Illinois who share a passion for the cause.
SBB: Who makes up the Youth Board and what led them to join?
IDEA YB: Most youth members are in high school, but some are in middle school. At our largest, we had 70 kids on the board! Usually we have between 20 and 30 members every year.
SBB: What are some of the main reasons youth join and stay on the board?
IDEA YB: Some of us get involved through the county; others through schools and friends. Many are leaders in their schools and communities. But we all share a common belief in what we do. That’s why we have an Alumni Board. Some youth love it so much that they can’t leave IDEA. They love to help us out however they can, even though they’re in college and busy with work. Everyone at IDEA is very active and involved in our activities.
SBB: What advice can you offer to teens who feel alone when trying to make healthy lifestyle choices?
IDEA YB: We tell them that there are other groups of people and friends who are happy without turning to drugs or alcohol. That’s who you want to hang out with.
SBB: How involved is the Youth Board in IDEA’s events?
IDEA YB: Teens are a crucial part. We get together for regular meetings and brainstorm ideas. We are there throughout the entire process, from development to implementation. We love to see our ideas unfold into programs.
SBB: How can teens in other states get involved?
IDEA YB: We would love to work with youth and organizations in other states. Anyone can visit the Web site, see what we’re doing, and fill out an application to join. Soon, we’ll have toolkits available that anyone can use! We’re always looking for youth who want to actively help and are passionate about the cause.
So, that’s the scoop on the Illinois Drug Education Alliance. Check out their Web site!
Ever wonder how teens in other schools or parts of the country feel about drug abuse? Two teens recently told SBB about their real-life experiences with drugs and high school:
Think of the two words: weed and cigarettes. What’s the first thing that crosses your mind? Maybe it’s addiction…but to a lonely teen who feels like an outcast from society, it might be something completely different. Maybe the first thing they think of is fitting in. In high school there are loads of different cliques, like the manly jocks, the nerds, that group of back-stabbing sassy girls. They’re all unique, and so are the stoners. And to a lonely freshman, this is a whole new world, and they may feel left out. Which is probably terrifying, because not fitting in is the worst feeling in the world. Whether it’s having no one to eat with at lunch, or not having a partner to do the assignment with in class.
If you take a closer look at the mind of that freshman, the only thing that he’s going to be thinking about is having some friends, and how he can fit in with one of those cliques. However, he may not exactly fit anywhere, and now he may be feeling even worse than before. Maybe he’ll turn to drugs, not because it’s the cool thing to do but because he desperately wants to be part of something, and the stoner group is the easiest one to be a part of! But just because they’re easy to be friends with doesn’t mean that they are who you should hang with.
As brainless as this may sound, some teens will stop at nothing to be “popular.” And this is exactly what happened to one of the kids at my school. He started out innocent and open, but now drugs are the only thing on his mind. He’s not the same kid he was, and there’s no way I can respect someone who did what he did, no matter how desperate he was. Drugs are never the answer to any of your problems.
On the last day of the first week of school, my school had a back-to-school dance. Even though this year it seemed like it would be really dumb, some friends and I decided to go. Some other kids we knew decided to go, too, but said they were going to smoke beforehand. That plan seemed way too risky because our school was getting really serious about drugs and threatened to have police at the dance. They decided to do it anyway.
About 10 minutes into the dance, teachers started coming in and looking around, and we saw them pull someone we knew who was in the group that smoked. Then, another one of our friends got pulled out. Eventually, the school contacted all the parents of kids in the group that smoked before the dance.
Although the kids involved were able to avoid any legal charges, they were given a 2-week suspension and forced to go to drug counseling sessions until deemed ready to stop by their respective counselors. The ones on football were also kicked off the team for the season and had to apologize to their coaches. Two of them are still in trouble with their parents and lost their trust because of it. In the end, I really don’t think the consequences were worth the 10 minutes they were able to have fun at the dance.
So maybe think about their situation and how it ended up for them the next time you want to do what they did.
Several SBB readers have submitted personal stories about their experiences—or their families' experiences—with addiction. We offer these stories to give you an inside view of how drug addiction can affect people's lives.
We are posting these comments as we received them, unedited, except as reflected in the Sara Bellum Blog guidelines.
@Dale My son is 33 years old and badly hooked on bath salts. Like the girl that wrote her dad talks underneath his couch because he thinks people are under there my son thinks someone lives in his attic and people are climbing the trees around his house and watching him. He has pawned most of the stuff in his house to get it. I have been thru his coke addiction with him and he was clean for three years. That was bad, but candy compared to this. He has lost his job, his son he raised, most friends & family & hurt me when I refuse to give him money for this. All I can do for him is pray for him.
@James Hi, I was a teenager who abused drugs. Not just cannabis, as in this post, but many drugs. A lot of people believed I was doing it in an act of rebel, a way to say ‘[expletive deleted] you’ to my life and society. In some regards it probably was but a part of it was I was battling some major inner demons, as the case with a lot of kids.
When you’re growing up and you’re falling into a chaotic pit of mental health issues, you can often feel alone. You definitely feel like an outcast. You feel like you’re the only person in the world who’s going through this. “Why me God?” is a common question. Drugs, such as cocaine, induce a sense of euphoria and they allowed me, and probably many others, to forget just for a couple of hours, just to get away. It was bliss.
I am not supporting drug abuse. Drug abuse did more damage to my life than I could possibly imagine. For one, I didn’t go to college nor did I finish high school but that might not have happened anyway on account of being hospitalized numerous times over the course of those years.
My point, however, is to make it clear here that drug abuse is often never just the problem itself. It’s a nasty side effect and, regardless of a suspension or kicking them off the football team, a teenager going through serious issues will never stop. If you want them to stop, get to the root of the issue. Don’t get me started on how wrong it actually is to knock children off their favorite extra-curricular activities because of this. This will do more damage than good.
So yeah, this is my view from a reformed drug addict who is now the lead technical director of a marketing company. I think my opinion counts. I’ve just shared something I haven’t shared in a good few years.