Lillian Boyd, Dana Point Times 

As friends and family bear witness to loved ones struggling with substance abuse and mental illness, Tanya Brown poses the question: What is the common denominator?

“Unresolved pain,” she said. “Unresolved trauma.”

Brown first attempted suicide 10 years after the murder of her older sister, Nicole Brown Simpson. Since undergoing treatment and therapy, as well as working in admissions for a treatment center, Brown says she wants to encourage people to face their pain.

“You have to walk through the tornado of chaos and pain. You can’t walk around it, or avoid it,” Brown said. “It will just catch up to you. You can’t suppress it. You have to talk about it.”

StopB4UStart, a local nonprofit aimed at empowering and educating individuals to stop before they even start using drugs and alcohol, has released a new short film in recognition of the upcoming Red Ribbon Week for 2020—in which Brown makes an appearance. The 22-minute short film was produced by the nonprofit organization’s co-founders Danny Murphy and Jason Peters.

The film features a pledge from students at Truman Benedict Elementary School and will be premiered at Bernice Ayer Middle School, both schools in San Clemente.

Brown, who graduated from Dana Hills High School in 1987, says she wants to provide children with more resources and support than what she believes schools lacked during her education.

“Kids deal with so much societal pressure, academic pressure, not to mention the bullying,” Brown said. “I was a student before MADD began campaigning against underage drinking in schools. I wish I had the tools I now have in my toolbox . . . strategies like breathing work, self-care, coping skills. Kids need to know these things.”

More than 40 staff members at Wind and Sea Restaurant in Dana Point Harbor, including employees in their teens and 20s, volunteered to be featured in the short film after losing a fellow colleague.

“The inspiration for the short film came from the sudden death of a well-loved employee at the Wind and Sea earlier this year and the social isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the disconnect that young adults are going through,” said Brown.

The film was officially released on Monday, Oct. 26 on YouTube and on stopb4ustart.org.

“It’s all about giving back to the community and reconnecting the kids,” Murphy said.  “We deeply appreciate their time and the positive messages from the students. Constantly telling kids not to do drugs does not work, but telling them to keep following their dreams, their passions and to keep learning—that is a powerful and positive message for these kids.”

Both Brown and Murphy believe that the public perception of drug and alcohol abuse needs to shift toward focusing on reinforcing positive messages of hope and highlighting examples of those who have overcome their addiction.

Appearances in the film include professional surfer Caroline Marks, skateboarder Logan Cogswell and Camilla Leonard, daughter of retired World Champion boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, as well as Lynn Sanchez, an English teacher from Capistrano Valley High School.

For more information, please visit stopb4ustart.org.

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