One may walk by one or two homeless people a day, but thousands of people pass by a single homeless person on a daily basis. And very few people ever stop to spare some change. People are taught to have a have an expectation and belief that the one person sitting alone against a building holding a sign doesn't deserve help because they probably do drugs.
“[People could be] very well could be right, but [they] could be wrong. That person could just be a person who’s down on their luck and they’re mortified to ask for money, but they need to live. Who are we to make that assumption?” asked Paul Hammersley, President and founder of Malden Overcoming Addiction.
Stigmatizing is the action of judging someone, based on how they look, or their condition. It’s associated with shame, dishonor, and humiliation.
Last year marked the first ever Malden Stop the Stigma Day. In this, schools vow to abolish making assumptions and judgement towards people that might need help. On April 12th, all the schools will celebrate a judgement free day and show support with the iconic turquoise ribbon pinned to their chest yet again.
Schools were also asked to create a banner and pose for a selfie for #maldenstopthestigmaday, and post it on social media. Paul Hammersley will visit all of the schools, show them a video, and take a selfie himself with the students.
The theory is, being able to cover such an important topic using social media, will not only reach this generation of kids, but also people around the world. Last year, Hammersley expected around 3,000-5,000 people to watch the video, visit the Facebook page, and take a selfie.
“[The MOA team] assumed if [they] can touch 6,000 kids, or people in the city” that would be good enough, but the real shock came when they ”touched 6,000 kids by 8 o’clock, and by the end of the day, it was 200,000 people. There were even troops in Kuwait [taking selfies],” Hammersley explained. The success of last year’s Stop the Stigma Day was phenomenal to Malden Overcoming Addiction, and an important step into battling addiction.
Hammersley is hoping that being able to explain what stigma is, and how to prevent it with younger students will raise to a generation that help people without judgement. Stigma affects everyone, whether people know it or not. It surrounds people with addiction, or mental illness, or people considered ‘different.’ Due to this, people with diseases such as addiction are more are likely to not survive due to stigma blocking their ability to ask for help.
Recently, students from the Malden High School have been asked to create the video that will be released on Stigma Day. Senior Marisa Vasquez is leading this troupe to create a video in hopes to touch everyone. With visual and filming production done by Hammersley himself, all that is needed are students that want to take a stand alongside them. Vasquez stated that she understands how bad stigma is, and “[knows] the struggle families and people face coming from facing a loved one’s addiction.” She believes that as a student who has faced addiction within her personal life, it is her duty to make a difference in her school, people’s lives, her community, and “hopefully, the world.”
Though this is only the 2nd year that Malden Stop the Stigma Day will have been in place, massive strides towards reaching the fundamental goal have already been made. Besides Stop the Stigma Day, there were other events such as “Let’s Celebrate Sober,” a New Year’s Eve party that brought in the new year free of addiction. During the summer, Malden Overcoming Addiction hosted “Malden Overcomes Day,” meant for everyone to enjoy and bring the community closer, and a few vigils for those lost to drug use.
Soon to be joining our community are Recovery Coaches, who will be available to talk to anyone who needs help, or struggles to get the help they need. Besides this, there’s hope for a Recovery Clinic that would benefit Malden and surrounding cities. “Stigma is crippling,” Hammersley stated, who also had faced struggles against stigma when he was younger.
“[He] was a kids who grew up a little bit overweight, [he] had a disfigurement, and people would pick on [him], and [he] would hide that because [he] didn’t want anyone to see it,” Hammersley recounted. Hopefully, having these things available to people will help reduce the amount of fatalities, and problems caused by addiction.
There’s a month until Stop the Stigma Day hits, and Malden Overcoming Addiction wants people to get involved and join the fight against addiction, and stigma. As the Malden Overcoming Addiction website states, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”