Breaking the stigma of addiction, one song at a time, in Morristown

Drum circle at the Breaking Stigma Festival in Morristown, June 2019. Photo by Hanna Rose Williams.
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By Hannah Rose Williams

Overcoming substance abuse is hard. So is overcoming the stigma that goes with it.

Artists, musicians and social service providers gathered recently on the Morristown Green to try and break that stigma, and make the point that people are not defined by an illness or addiction. We all are human, we all are unique.

“As time goes on, I’ve started to notice the need for people to be seen, be heard, to connect authentically. And music, poetry, and the arts are essential ingredients for healing and to raise awareness,” said Vicky Mulligan, organizer of the Breaking Stigma Festival.

Musical performances occupied the center of the Green, with mask-making, comedy, interactive art, and a drum circle taking place around the perimeter.

One of the singers, Tiffany Enemuo, winner of this year’s Shout Down Drugs contest, sang her song Had It All.

“I got into it because I had a teacher that was really close to me, and he struggled with a drug addiction,” Enemuo said. “He had a wife, and a family, but because of drugs he had to be separated from the things he loved.”

Tiffany Enemuo sings at the Breaking Stigma Festival in Morristown, June 22, 2019. Photo by Hannah Rose Williams.

More than 70,200 fatal drug overdoses were reported in the United States in 2017, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than half of those deaths– 47,600–involved opioids, with the sharpest increase involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (other synthetic narcotics), which killed 28,400 people.

Participants in the June 22, 2019 festival included Barbara Kauffman of Morris County Prevention is Key, Morris County Sheriff James Gannon’s Hope One program, and emcee Kathy Moser, a singer with Music for Recovery.

The festival was presented by Morris County’s LIFE Center Stage, the Community Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Morris, Atlantic Health Systems, Morris County Human Services, and the Stigma Free Committee.

Music ranged from rap to pop.

“It’s important to really just get out there and convey the seriousness of suicide and mental health, and especially how hard high school and college can be. We need to be there for each other,” said Allie Cimaglia, a senior from Whippany Park High School.

The event concluded with a drum circle lesson by instructor Ubaka Hill.

“Drum to bring people joy, personal power, and healing ourselves,” Hill said.

Morristown, Morris Township and many other municipalities have joined Morris County’s Stigma-Free Initiative, a pledge not to discriminate against those with mental illness or substance abuse disorders.

Correspondent Hannah Rose Williams is a rising sophomore at the Morristown-Beard School.

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