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Awaken Project Assembly Brings Light to STL Heroin Epidemic

Sam Cary

Sam Cary

Joe Richardson, a co-founder of The Awaken Project, stands in front of the FHN student body to tell his story of drug addiction in his family, and the effect it can have on others. The father of two daughters lost his son, an FHN alumni, to heroin on Aug. 12, 2012. “It’s therapy for me to do this,” Richardson said. “Somebody’s got to do this.”

Chase Meyer, Francis Howell North High School

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Students file into a half-lit gymnasium at 8:30 a.m. on the morning of March 10, greeted by the sight of a drum set and projector screen on one side and a DJ’s setup on the other. Filing into the stands with their groups of friends, students can already foresee this is no ordinary FHN assembly. The Awaken Project is preparing to present their live performance to raise awareness on the effects of heroin on high schooler’s lives.

Activities Director Mike Janes sets the tone for the assembly, welcoming Jeff Mozingo and Joe Richardson to FHN, and encouraging students to do the same. Mozingo immediately takes to the drum set, playing remixed versions of popular songs students know, including Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” with the help of instrumental music in the background. The performance continues on for more than 15 minutes.

Mozingo appears from behind the drums, reviving himself from his performance with a bottle of water. He proceeds to tell a story of football players who partied with drugs and alcohol, killing a grandmother and her grandson while looking for money to purchase drugs and alcohol. Because of their choices, some are spending up to two life sentences in a Florida State penitentiary.

“It’s about the quality of life you choose,” Mozingo said. “Be very careful about the friends you choose and the kind of choices that you make. It could be the difference between living your life and not.”

Administrators and guidance counselors continue to man their positions, keeping watch over students as Mozingo continues to dive deeper into the emotional and physical consequences of drugs. Multiple tissue boxes can be seen carried into the gym.

After Mozingo proposes to students the option to get into music instead of drugs, partner Joe Richardson takes the floor to talk. Starting by talking about the use of seatbelts in cars, the speaker continues on to provide statistics on physical and emotional development, along with the effects of drugs on human life.

Eerie silence falls over the audience as Richardson tells FHN there’s a 7 percent chance of living after becoming addicted to heroin. The speaker displays faces of familiar singers and actors on the screen at the front of the gym. Whispers emit from the crowd as students reflect on memories of the performers.

Richardson comes to tears. A photo of his son appears on the screen. On Aug. 12, 2012 at 1:48 p.m., he got the call that he had lost his son, a graduate of FHN, to heroin. Richardson acknowledges that the assembly was especially tough for him, but says he needed to be at the school.

“My son was a good person,” Richardson said. “He made a bad choice. He would’ve given you the shirt off his back. There are still teachers here that knew my son. There are counselors here that knew my son.”

 

Shortly after, the name of Brendan Krupp echoes throughout the gymnasium. New developments concerning the death of Krupp came to light moments into the question-answer portion of the assembly. A family friend stood to inform students that the senior did not pass away from heroin, as was believed by many in the student body. Fentanyl, an opiate-based prescription drug, was the cause of death, though was most likely disguised as heroin.

As Richardson continues to reminisce on memories of his son, one student begins to cry and quietly slips out of the gym. Another follows.

The assembly ends after multiple questions from the student body. Richardson gave guidance to those who are having trouble with friends and family members, and answered questions about his personal experiences after his son’s passing.

“It’s therapy for me to do this,” Richardson said. “Somebody’s got to do this.”

The Awaken Project was started as a joint effort between Mozingo and Richardson after both independently attempted to speak at schools about drug use, but were not getting the support they needed. After joining together, the two have visited 75 schools across the country and plan to travel to China to talk in the near future.

“It turned out to be a really good thing for me, and Jeff also,” Richardson said. “The greatest reward is educating kids on the impact of drugs. I think we’re impacting kids a lot.

Both Mozingo and Richardson agree that making an impact on just one young person is all they need to be satisfied, but they are trying for more.

“If you save one kid at school, we did our job,” Richardson continues. “I think we’re saving more than one, and I think we’re impacting kids a lot to where I’ve had kids up to me and say ‘thank you, you saved my life today.'”

Read the original story here.

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