Former New York Mets outfielder and author Darryl Strawberry discussed and addressed the opioid epidemic and his personal struggle with drug addiction Thursday night with Whitestone residents while reiterating the importance of community.
“I think it’s real important that I get a chance and opportunity to travel the country and go into all types of schools,” said Strawberry, who has spoken to students across the country about drug awareness and addiction. “I’ve done a lot of things and I see that community is so important. We really need to start gathering and coming back together so we can make a difference.”
Strawberry, who played professional baseball for 17 years with the Mets, Giants, Dodgers and the Yankees, led an honest dialogue and Q&A segment with an audience at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, before signing copies of his book “Don’t Give Up on Me: Shedding Light on Addiction With Darryl Strawberry.”
Strawberry’s book touches on his personal story of childhood abuse, anxiety, drug abuse and alcohol addiction with easy-to-understand explanations and commentaries on addiction from trained professionals. The book provides a basis of coping and understanding addictions, and offering hope and a path to healing.
“Don’t give up on anyone. If people had given up on me, I wouldn’t be standing here today. My mother prayed for me and my wife pulled me out of dope houses 16 years ago,” said Strawberry, who has been in recovery for 16 years.
The 57-year-old born-again Christian and ordained minister, who struggled with substance abuse throughout his baseball career and battled cancer, expressed the importance of building a conversation and connecting with the youth.
“We’re living in a time where it’s very broken and lonely for a lot of young people, and I’ve been in recovery for a long time and I’ve never seen so many people addicted to drugs like they are today,” said Strawberry. “I didn’t come here to talk about baseball and the championships…all that stuff means nothing, when I sit here and look at kids dying it breaks my heart.”
Strawberry added, “We have a serious problem in America today, and it’s going to take people like you and like me to start paying attention to our kids…if you don’t talk to them someone else will.”
While traveling to different schools across the country and speaking with patients at his treatment center, Strawberry noted the impact of social media and past personal troubles in their lives.
“When I sat down at the table and talk to young girls and boys at my treatment center and they told me they’ve been abused and raped, and that’s the problem right there. That’s why they’re doing drugs,” said Strawberry. “They’re trying to escape from the pain that’s within that’s deep. If we don’t help kids with their deep pain inside — their hurt, habits, rejection, loneliness, divorce, all this plays a big part in kids’ lives.”
Strawberry encouraged parents to be honest and show more openness, love, and acceptance to their children.
“Parents hug your kids. Tell them you love them and care for them,” said Strawberry. “We just hope that we’re the prime example for them, that they will stay connected with us. We need to get back to hearing them, just listen, and let them tell you what they feel. When we do that it might just save them from making the wrong decision.”
His message to the youth: “Be a leader, don’t follow the crowd.”
Following his speech, Whitestone residents said they were truly inspired by the star’s passionate words of encouragement.
“It’s awesome that he came to speak to a community. You really saw that he had a heart to bring awareness and help,” said Laura Copersino, of the local non-profit organization, the Daniel Copersino Foundation, which helps raise funds in support of substance abuse and addiction based charities providing grants to those in need of treatment. “A lot of people maybe don’t want to face it or admit that it’s going on, but it’s beyond important — it’s a matter of life and death.”
Erin Rappaport, a school social worker, said the event showed the importance of coming together showing love, compassion and kindness.
“I’ve worked in very very wealthy school communities and the most impoverished crisis communities and they’re both affected by drugs and addiction and human suffering,” said Rappaport. “There’s not enough talk about human suffering and everyone is trying to put up a front and pretend that we have it together and when we come together and talk about our problems and keep it real, it makes us feel not so alone.”
After witnessing Strawberry speak to a group of students a few months ago, Alfredo Centola, president of the We Love Whitestone Civic Association, said, “I always say “GET UP , GET OUT, GET INVOLVED! Darryl reiterates that message in a way that hits home. In a way meant to protect our most loved and vulnerable. We can’t pretend it’s not happening. We have to be proactive!”