Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

“Look at the first day, and not the worst day.”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” of which health and wellness are major aspects.  Personal stories also fall under this principle as they are one of the most powerful means of teaching individuals about success and failure.  Recently, three high schools in Northern Virginia hosted a very special guest who shared his life journey starting from his days as a high school basketball standout, to his college basketball stardom, to his ascension to the National Basketball Association (NBA), and then his personal struggles with drug addiction and substance abuse along the way.

On Oct. 2 Chris Herren visited Northern Virginia to talk to students and families about his basketball journey and his lifelong struggle with drug addiction and substance abuse.  In the first of many local stops, Herren spoke at Fairfax High School to an audience of all students in the morning, and then to adults, families and the general public in the evening.  I first heard part of Chris’s story years ago on the Jim Rome Show, and then I watched ESPN’s powerful documentary on his life and journey, Unguarded.  I learned about his visit a couple of weeks ago by chance after Tweeting to Chris’s foundation ‘The Herren Project’.  I told them that I would’ve definitely attended one of his talks in Massachusetts if I lived there.  They shared that he would be making an appearance in early October in the DC area, and as a lover of sports stories, I knew that I had to attend.

Chris Herren was one of the top 20 high school basketball players coming out of Durfee High School in 1994 with multiple offers to some of the nation’s top college basketball programs.  It was in high school where he first experimented with alcohol – something he had seen his father do growing up.  After playing just a little bit for Boston College, he failed a drug test which almost ended his career.  He received a second chance from a legendary coach who had given numerous young men second chances throughout his career – legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian also known as “Tark the Shark”, who had taken over as head coach at Fresno State University where I first saw Chris play on television.  There he played his way into being the 33rd overall pick for the Denver Nuggets in the 1999 NBA Draft.  He was later traded to the Boston Celtics where his drug problems escalated, and then went on to play overseas in Italy where his life further spiraled downwards before setting off on his road to recovery years later.

“The kids across the room who didn’t do anything, they had something I didn’t have,” Chris said in his strong New England accent, describing one of the high school parties he attended where he and his friends consumed alcohol underage, while another set of kids across the room didn’t consume anything and were fine with it.  During his talk, Chris told many stories about his journey which involved experimentation and addiction to Cocaine, OxyContin, and finally Heroin – all while becoming a father and a professional basketball player.  This particular story was significant because it touched on something many young people struggle with well into adulthood; personal contentment and self-esteem.

The significance of Chris’s opening quote of this post is to get people to note where our personals problems start and their root causes, as opposed to focusing solely on the end results – substance abuse, drug overdoses, suicides, and many others.  His just happened to be his father’s struggle with alcoholism, his mother’s resulting pain, and then the experimentation with drugs and alcohol amongst his peers early on as teens.  Chris’s other over-arching message was about “Wellness”, and how both parents and schools need to be more vigilant and aware of the struggles of young people which can lead to any number of injurious outcomes later in life if not caught early and addressed.

“Over the last seven years I’ve had the responsibility of sharing my story in front of a million kids.  I truly believe in my heart that I’ve made a difference for some, and I do this for many reasons,” Chris Herren said opening up his talk.  “When it comes to addiction, I think we’ve gone horribly wrong.  I think we put way too much focus on the worst day, and we forget about the first day.

“It’s safe as parents to show our children pictures of drug addicts and how to watch a movie and at the end explain to them what happened.  It’s hard to sit them down at 15 years old and say honestly, ‘Please tell me why you’re letting this begin.’

After telling his story, Chris took questions from the audience – parents and teens, whom he also makes himself available to through email.  Afterwards he graciously took pictures with those of us in the audience and took further questions individually.  I seized the opportunity to ask him one to two more.

“He’s one of the people that I will unconditionally love for the rest of my life.  I did the eulogy at his funeral at the Thomas and Mack Center in front of 12,000 people.  What I told everyone that night is that he meant the world to me.  He changed me,” Chris reflected afterwards when I asked him to say a few words on Jerry Tarkanian.  “I do what I do today because he did that for me.”

“He gave me a second chance and I truly believe people are worth second chances.  If we didn’t give second chances to people in recovery, we’d be much worse off.  He instilled that in me and it continues in my life today.”

Thank you for taking the time out to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

James Tate discusses fitness, health, wellness and his new book: Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants

One of the goals for my blog is to help expose for other individuals with new and novel ideas/projects of their own which is in line with my principle of “Creating Ecosystems of Success” – a major part of which is health and wellness.  Occasionally my alma maters will show up in my writings, and in the spring I conducted an interview with Robert Ridley, President of Johnson C. Smith University’s DC Alumni Chapter regarding our “150 and Beyond Campaign” to raise money for our scholarship endowment.  I recently heard about a children’s book created by another fellow JCSU alumnus; James “Big Dogg” Tate, who has his hands in numerous projects relating to health and wellness.  I thought interviewing James would be make for a compelling interview for both of us, and would further be educational for any readers based on his passion and knowledge of health and fitness.  In the following interview, James talks a little bit about his background, and his new book Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants.

Anwar Dunbar:  Hello James.  First, thank you for agreeing to do this interview and discussing your new book, Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants on my blog.  It looks like you’ve created something really positive and helpful here.  I graduated from JCSU in 1999, so I vaguely remember seeing you on campus.  Where are you originally from?

James Tate:  I was born and raised in Washington, DC.

AD:  Where did the nickname “Big Dogg” come from?

JT:  I had many nicknames growing up, but that’s the one that stuck.  Because I was an overweight child, teen, and adult, I had nicknames like “Fatz”, “Biggie”, “Big Daddy”, “Pooh”, etc. – but “Big Dogg” has stood the test of time, through different schools and states.

AD:  What did you major in at JCSU?

JT:  I’m a 2002 graduate of JCSU.  I majored in Computer Science/Engineering.  I am also a member of the Alpha Epsilon Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

AD:  A couple of years ago, you were the featured speaker at our JCSU DC Alumni Club’s monthly meeting where you gave us a powerful talk about diet, health, and fitness.  With your training at JCSU being in Computer Science/Engineering, what got you into health and fitness?

JT:  I was actually forced into health and wellness.  I was an overweight child, an overweight teen, and an overweight adult.  I was involved in an accident that left me immobile for a year. After that year, my weight was over 400 pounds.  I then had three years of physical therapy.  My doctor told me that my injuries would never heal unless I lost weight.  With me being overweight my entire life, I didn’t think it was possible.

I rededicated my life to Christ at the New Year’s Eve service going into the 2010 year.  I prayed for help, and I started studying scriptures about health and wellness.  I read Christian wellness books, and attended Christian wellness group meetings.  By the end of 2010, I had lost over 200 pounds naturally.  I then went to nutrition school and finished with my first certification. I currently hold six wellness certifications and own my own wellness practice.

AD:  Wow, that’s amazing.  I too was overweight as a child for a little while until my mother stepped in and made me get more active and controlled my portion sizes; so we share some common ground there.  In middle school I had some nicknames that I wasn’t too fond of myself.

Before we talk about the Kool Kids, I started reading SALT: Black America’s SILENT KILLER.  I pretty much knew about kidney dialysis, but Dr. Surender Reddy Neravetla also went into graphic detail about cardiac bypass surgery – specifically, how high blood pressure can persist even after the operation, and how the surgeon can only prescribe more blood pressure lowering medication at that point.  There’s a definite mental/quality of life cost to having conditions like diabetes, and heart disease.  There’s a financial cost as well to the individual and to society.  With all of the debate here in Washington, DC about the Affordable Care Act, I think there is something to be said here about preventative care/lifestyle.  I mean who wants take 10 medications and go on dialysis if they don’t have to?  Can you say anything about the financial costs of being unhealthy in terms lifestyle – maintaining a poor diet and not staying physically active.

JT:  That’s a great question.  Healthcare starts in your kitchen and obesity costs our country a lot of money annually – roughly 200 billion dollars depending on the source reporting the dollar amount.  Many of us don’t consider the cost of obesity and obesity-related diseases.  We only consider the cost of the food we purchase today.  Because we think this way, we go for the cheapest, most convenient options, not thinking about the long-term effects of that food.  I like to say that people will put 93-Octane fuels into their $50k car, but will consistently put 87-Octane (regular) foods into their multi-million dollar bodies and expect them to run at an optimum level.  Ironically, they’re shocked when their bodies eventually break down. For African Americans, 95% of the chronic illness that we suffer from today are caused by poor food choices.   That means that a lot of what we suffer from is preventable.

AD:  How did you come up with the idea for Kool Kids & The Land Of The Giants?  Just briefly, without giving too much away, what’s it about?

JT:  The Kool Kids are a group of Christian kids who will motivate, educate, and inspire you and your family to defeat the giants in your life/land – giants such as Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease, High Blood Pressure, Depression, Debt, etc.  We have become comfortable living with certain diseases and have even given them cute nicknames like calling diabetes, “A touch of sugar.”  I wanted to remind people that diseases are monsters and we should treat them as such.  Also, it’s been said that this is the first generation of children that will not outlive their parents due to obesity and diseases related to obesity.  So I want to teach them about health and wellness in a new and fun way with characters that they can relate to while including biblical principles.  I was unable to find any health and wellness books that were biblically based that starred super heroes of color, so I decided to create one.

AD:  Wow.  That’s a great idea James.  Are you envisioning any sequels?

JT:  Yes. The Kool Kids is a series and in each book they will take on a new giant.

AD:  Where can people purchase the Kool Kids?

JT:  You can order a copy of The Kool Kids from my web store, http://store.beyondw8loss.com. You will also find Kool Kid merchandise there as well.

AD:  Do you have any parting words?

JT:  First, thank you for interviewing me, and I thank everyone who takes the time to read this interview.  It’s my prayer that we learn to take our health seriously.  Again in terms of the chronic illnesses that we suffer from, especially as African Americans, 95% are caused by poor food choices.  We can change and reverse so much just by paying attention to what’s on the end of our forks.

AD:  Well James, thank you again for agreeing to do this interview.  I’m going to get a couple of copies Kool Kids for some of the folks in my own network.

Thank you for taking the time out to read this interview.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.