By Sharon Jones and Melinda Gaffney
One bad decision. That’s all it takes to ruin your life.
That’s what senior Jimmy LeBeau took away from the theatrical presentation by Scot Anthony Robinson at La Jolla High School last week. The Bird Rock Elementary grad was stunned and moved by Robinson’s talk in ways he never expected.
“It shocked me how quickly drugs took over his life,” said LeBeau, 18.
Another senior, Tyson Youngs, agreed. “It happened so quick,” the 18 year old said. “He needed to be popular, so he got high. And then he needed to get high, so he moved to stronger and stronger drugs.”
Robinson, an actor and former drug addict, spent two days at La Jolla High School last week. He performed for freshman and sophomores one day, then met with them in breakout sessions. The next day he did the same thing with juniors and seniors. That night he spoke to 300-plus people (including 50 middle- schoolers) in Parker Auditorium.
His visit was organized by the Community Education Committee of the La Jolla Cluster Association.
Principal Dana Shelburne said it was the most effective anti-drug program he had ever seen. Afterward, one student came forward to tell administrators that he had a drug problem, and that, because of Robinson’s talk, he wanted to get help.
Robinson’s student performance is carefully crafted. He uses theatrics to get the teens’ attentions. He makes sure they know he wasn’t so different from them. He was a star student. He was from a stable home. He loved his parents. He played Little League.
He talked about feeling like an outsider at school, about being shy around girls, and put down by guys. He described how he wore a “mask” that hid his true personality, his true feelings. He started experi- menting with marijuana when he was 11 because he wanted to be popular, he said. At first, he smoked for the fun of it, but soon he was smoking all the time.
“They say marijuana is a gateway drug — it opened up the floodgates,” he told the students. “When I was angry, I took a hit. (He pretended to take a puff). When I was lonely, I took a hit (puff). When I was stressed, I took a hit (puff). When I was confused, I took a hit (puff). When I was heart broken, I took a hit (puff). When I listened to music, I took a hit (puff). When I went to the movies, I took a hit (puff). Just because, I took a hit (puff).”
He continued. “Just because, I took a hit (puff). Just because, I took a hit (puff). Just because, I took a hit (puff).”
The laughter stopped.
He said he smoked all through high school. His parents never even suspected. He kept his grades up.
When he went to college, life’s complications and temptations increased, and he experimented with more alcohol and stronger drugs. After college, he was in a number of Spike Lee and Wesley Snipes films: “Mo’ Better Blues,” “Jungle Fever,” “Malcolm X.” But he also was using heroin, and then cocaine, and then crack cocaine.
His girlfriend confronted him about his drug use, and he chose to be homeless rather than get help. He lived on the streets of New York City, selling drugs to buy the drugs that his body now demanded. His life was violent. His career was over.
He lived like this for a year and a half. Then he called his ex- girlfriend and asked for help. He started the difficult road to recovery. He credits his survival to the love and support of that ex- girlfriend and her mother.
Stopping teens from making his mistake is now his life’s work. “One second, one millisecond, one wrong turn, bad decision, one wrong association, one not being aware of where you are standing, who you are with, not listening, not paying attention, can change your whole life,” he warned the students.
Robinson advocates abstinence for teenagers — no drugs, no alcohol at all. He believes their hearts and brains are too fragile — that if they develop a habit young they will become dependent on drugs. Or they might have a physical reaction that changes them forever. Or they will be emotionally crippled.
Or that, while high, they will make just one bad decision that will result in a negative outcome — unprotected sex, a fight, a DUI, a crime, or addiction.
“I want you to experience anger,” he told the students. “I want you to experience loneliness. I want you to endure heartache ... I want you to feel.
“Why? You must build the muscles of your heart and brain so you can cope with life without chemical assistance,” he explained.
“Life is hard. It’s challenging. It hurts. It’s unfair... But what I am saying to you is that if I can pick myself up, 120 pounds, nasty bugs crawling on me, talking to myself, infection-ridden, stinky, never brushing my teeth, pick myself off, from the floor, from the depths, and lift myself back up, I don’t care what kind of challenges you have, you can do it.
“You can do it,” he repeated.
At the end of each student talk, Robinson was surrounded by students who wanted to chat and take a picture with him. “He put his heart out to us,” said Karly Zlatic, 18.
Said Katie Harmeyer: “He was so open to us. He was so vulnerable. He was on our level —- usually speakers look down on us.”
Robinson insisted on having no teachers nor administrators present during the student breakout sessions because he wanted the teens to be able to speak freely. This meant he was with hundreds of teens by himself.
“He is a brave guy,” said William Hawthorne, a vice principal and an admirer.
Parents got a hint of what went on during those sessions when an eighth-grader opened up to Robinson during the public presentation. He had been casually chatting up middle-schoolers in the audience when this student raised her hand. She seemed on the verge of tears. A friend of hers, a boy just a year older, was abusing drugs and alcohol, she said. She didn’t know what to do.
Robinson urged the girl to tell the boy how much she loved him, and to encourage him to get help. He told her to get other friends to do the same. He told her that there was no greater power than love.
Many audience members were startled and touched by the exchange — by her honesty and frankness, by the caring expressed by Robinson. Afterward, many parents expressed interest in bringing Robinson back to La Jolla to speak again.
“It was powerful,” said parent Laura Lee Skillman. “This, to me, felt so real, so personal. He made himself so vulnerable and that made all the difference to the children in the audience.”
Parent Sandra Munson loved his speaking style and his ability to relate to the students. “He was so real and honest about going through the ups and downs of his life,” she said.
His speaking fee was paid largely by Andrew Tobias of New York City. The Afzali Family of La Jolla and the La Jolla High School administration also contributed. Krista Baroudi, owner of the La Jolle Cove Suites, gave Robinson three nights in what he described as her “fly” hotel.
■ Scot Anthony Robinson:
■ Robinson video:
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