Massachusetts Daily Collegian

TEDxUMassAmherst inspires all to live healthy lives

By Brian Bevilacqua

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Justin Surgent/Collegian

Failure and redemption were only two of the subjects touched upon at the TEDxUMassAmherst talks on Saturday at Mahar auditorium. The hope was to foster the exchange of “ideas worth spreading,” according to the events website.

Using the 18-minute speech format made popular by the better-known TED talks, TEDx piggybacks of the success of its namesake, lending some star power to events like the one on the University of Massachusetts campus.

Organized by independent groups, TEDx prides itself on providing a “local experience,” according to its website.

Former Celtics player and speaker Chris Herren described himself as being “just a Massachusetts kid.”

The Fall River native had been repeatedly told growing up that he could not reach his dreams, and was discouraged by his family because “6’1” white kids don’t make it to the NBA” and “McDonald’s All-Americans don’t come from Fall River.”

He made the NBA, but it came at a price.

After his unlikely rise to basketball stardom, and Herren fell victim to a series of misguided choices and loss of everything to addiction.

According to Herren, his unlikely success encouraged him to trust his own judgment over others, until he was offered his first line of cocaine. What began as “one line, one time” eventually developed into a $25,000 a month Oxycotin habit. Repeated warnings from loved ones did not reach the basketball star until he finally overdosed while driving his car.

Herren said that he took his overdose as a sign that he had lost control and checked himself into a rehabilitation center. Despite a relapse, Herren was able to save himself from the brink of death and has remained sober since August 1, 2008.

Herren told his story to dissuade the young people in the crowd from making the same destructive decisions that derailed his own life and to live a healthy lifestyle, a recurring theme throughout the TEDx event.

TEDx speaker Mike Guglielmo, encouraged the crowd to “be a hero, save a life.”

In the 1980’s Guglielmo was a self-described “bad guy” who spent his time robbing drug dealers and gang members. After surrendering to the police, his spree of drug use and gun firing earned him a sentence to a minimum of 22 and a half years in prison. Guglielmo decided to use his time in the maximum security penitentiary to study law and he eventually earned a paralegal degree.

“The law turned me into an idealist,” said Guglielmo,

Guglielmo was paroled after his startling turnaround, but his challenges were just beginning. He decided to start a family. But after his nson was born, things took a turn for the worse when he learned his son needed a bone marrow transplant to survive past his first year.

Refusing to accept his son’s death he dedicated himself to enrolling as many people as possible into the donor registry. Though his son, Giovanni, passed away, Guglielmo still devotes his time to saving lives by finding and enlisting willing donors, and he has personally found over 100 life-saving matches for those in need of bone marrow.

Throughout the event Guglielmo manned a table where people could sign up to potentially become donors.

Hip-hop artist Toni Blacjman didn’t have a sad story to tell, but she did come to UMass with a message encouraging health and wellness. Her time on stage focused on the emotional and physiological benefits of hip-hop on the individual and on our society.

The first U.S. State Department ambassador of hip-hop to the United States, Blackman has a compelling energy when she took the stage.

She discussed the ability the cypher – a gathering of people in a circular formation – to create a sense of community out of all things, but mainly music. According to her, this sense of community allows for a happier, more expressive environment.

Moschell Coffey, Director of Strategic Growth, Communications and Operations at the “Good Dog Foundation,” a group dedicated to increasing awareness of animal-assisted therapy also spoke at the event. Coffey talked about the ability dogs have to help humans find their mental and emotional health, as well as physical wellness. She used her experience with “Good Dog” to discuss how canines have been proven to help people recover from traumatizing experiences and live fulfilling lives. Coffey explained that dogs can even help cancer patients cope with the strain of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Sushil Bhatia, an inventor, businessman, and teacher at Suffolk University gave the crowd some tips on how to thrive in life.

Instead of drilling the listeners on the importance of hard work and persistence in finding happiness, he encouraged people to let go of their stress and meditate.

Brian Bevilacqua can be reached at [email protected]

 

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