ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It would be advantageous for parents to take the opportunity, rare though the chance might be, to sit down with teenagers willing to talk about what they see, what they know, what they know we adults have no clue about.
Like, what it’s like, really like, out there – the schools, the sex, the friends, the foibles, the pressure, the drugs.
Lots of drugs.
Like, what it’s like to say no to drugs these days, not in a Nancy Reagan way, not in a nerdy way, not in a public service announcement way, not in a Mom-and-Dad way.
Definitely not in a Mom-and-Dad way. Alas.
“Our parents say don’t do drugs or you’ll get in trouble, and that’s the first thing we want to do,” says Isaac Leeman, 16, a high school junior and one of the guys I sat down with at the Media Arts Collaborative Charter School in Albuquerque for this cafeteria table discussion.
“They try to talk to us like we’re idiots,” adds Caelan Harris, 17 and a senior at the school. “And most of our parents were kids during that ’60s and ’70s nonsense. We know what went on back then.”
We are so busted.
But drugs are different now, we parents rightly argue. They’re stronger. They kill.
New Mexico now ranks first in the nation for drug overdose deaths, with a growing number of those deaths occurring among youths – especially those who begin by abusing prescription drugs like Oxycontin, then move up to heroin, then move down, way down, to the grave.
“I’ve seen people OD, and it’s not a pretty sight,” says Robert Serrano, 18 and a senior.
We are here at the school, called MACCS by the students, because Haley Paternoster was also a student here.
Because Haley was a pretty and privileged and popular 16-year-old who few would have guessed had a habit so dark, or would die of a heroin overdose in April 2010.
Because her classmates don’t want anybody else to die like that.
“We see that kids are getting worse and worse,” says Alexander Wilson, 17 and a senior. “I think people would be surprised to know how bad it really is, how easy it is to get heroin and Oxy and who is getting it. It’s not who you think. It’s kids like Haley.”
Which means it could be just about any kid.
So Wilson, Leeman, Harris, Serrano and the four other students past and present from the school’s advanced music production class have come up with a way to say no to drugs that they think kids will listen to.
Because the message is coming from them, peer-to-peer, kid-to-kid, straight, anything but sugar-coated and in the genre and method they prefer – hip-hop and social media.
The group, which calls itself SoundOven, is composing and performing hip-hop songs about combating teen heroin addiction and living and dying in the city. The kids – who also include junior Ruben Valenzuela, 17; senior Floyd Moya, 17; and former students Falon Cole and Alex Torres – are also recording and producing a CD and digital download of the songs and marketing their efforts through Facebook, Twitter and a fundraising site called indiegogo.com.
In addition, they plan to create and produce a music video of the title track, “Haley We Miss You,” a haunting, hurting number about the classmate who struggled with her addiction and lost.
Now here is where you – yes, even you parents – can help.
|About the project
⋄ To donate or learn more about the campaign: www.indiegogo.com/SoundOven-Youth-Media
⋄ To listen to the title track “Haley We Miss You”: soundcloud.com/blake-villela-minnerly/haley-we-miss-you
The students’ goal is to raise $10,000 by March 20 to pay for production, post-production and distribution expenses for the CD and the DVD, which they hope to provide to every school in Albuquerque as a learning tool, a message, a warning, a way to begin a dialog about the dangers of drugs.
“This is a project with meaning,” teacher Blake Minnerly says. “It exemplifies young people trying to make a difference in their community, but in their way, not ours. If you want teens to listen, your message has to be authentic, it has to be real. These guys make it real.”
Several members of the group know firsthand how real drugs can be.
“I’ve seen about every drug being used,” Serrano says. “I’ve seen it, and it makes me not want to do it at all.”
Although their message is aimed at youths, the students have found a strong supporter in one particular parent – Haley’s father, Steve Paternoster.
“This singular message, done by her peers, may have more power than all of our messages together,” says Paternoster, a prominent restaurateur and the biggest contributor thus far to the cause. “If I can get a copy of this CD/DVD to every legislator, every guidance counselor, our governor, her staff, all high schools, all middle schools and beyond, the message of prevention – repeat, prevention – it will send will make me very, very happy. If that turns out to be Haley’s life’s work, maybe she accomplished a lot.”
Which is exactly what these kids know already.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline Gutierrez Krueger at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal