Weston students encouraged to acknowledge their pain

Michael Fowlin encouraged Weston students to talk to others about their problems. — Rose Horowitz photo

Michael Fowlin encouraged Weston students to talk to others about their problems. — Rose Horowitz photo

“Your pain is your gift,” actor and psychologist Michael Fowlin told Weston High School students recently.

“I would say in this community you’re told not to acknowledge your pain,” Fowlin said. “Most of you here wear a mask.”

Fowlin spoke to the students on April 7 in a talk sponsored by the Alcohol Drug and Awareness Program (ADAP) through a grant from the Mid-Fairfield Substance Abuse Coalition. The coalition has designated ADAP of Weston, a non-profit, as its Local Prevention Council.

Student leaders of ADAP’s Youth Leadership Council presented a short video before the program about why they belong to ADAP. Led by Tim Walsh, a trained facilitator, ADAP provides a monthly forum for Weston students to discuss the challenges they face in high school and the risks associated with alcohol and substance abuse.

With concern about alcohol and drug use becoming more prevalent at early ages in Weston and nationwide, Robert Handel and other Weston parents are seeking funding to start an ADAP peer group for seventh and eighth grade students by this fall. 

Fowlin, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology, used different voices in his talk at two back-to-back assemblies, asking students to look at things from a different angle.

During his years in school, Fowlin said, if classmates picked on him, he would say something weird, such as “You have beautiful blue eyes.”

Pointing out that “what you see is not always what you get,” Fowlin said that at a visit to a middle school, a girl asked him, “Are you going to rap for us?” He asked students if they thought that was racist.

“A lot of you are more comfortable seeing me as a black man than as a human being,” he said.

Fowlin grew up in Toms River, N.J., as one of eight African American children at a school in a white neighborhood. He played football in college and someone asked him years later why he liked playing running back. “I liked getting hit,” he answered, later astonished at his answer, realizing that “no one ever hit me as hard as my dad. He was a 350-pound man. … The truth makes you uncomfortable.”

Face that pain and use it as a gift, he told the students. He encouraged them to acknowledge one another and smile. “Say hello to 10 people you don’t usually greet and welcome diversity,” he said.

“If you want to talk, find someone. I know we don’t show our weaknesses. I challenge you to find someone to talk to.”

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