by Ibrahim Dabo (@IbDabo)
Grammy Award-nominated singer and songwriter Mario Barrett may have secured his place in the star-studded firmament of entertainment, but he is also making a singular difference in the world of philanthropy, thanks to his efforts in the Mario Do Right Foundation to end addiction in the home.
He is committed to educating and inspiring youth, especially in his native Baltimore. During a recent celebration of his 25th birthday, Mario spoke exclusively with Ib Talk Online Executive Editor Ibrahim Dabo to shed more light on his foundation and activities, in which he shared heartfelt stories from his past and how those experiences serve as a catalyst in his quest to make a difference. His story is an inspiration—and well worth your time!
Mario started his foundation to address circumstances too often felt among his contemporaries in Baltimore: how drug addictions lead to alienation, abandonment and discord among all persons left in their wake.
“A whole lot of my family members were drug addicts,” he said. “I think I’m a prime example of someone who can be an inspiration to kids because I have lived the life they are going through now.”
“Being in Baltimore and not having a real father figure in my life and still being blessed by God to make it [successfully] out of Baltimore is such a testimony. I just want to be an inspiration to kids and show them that they can do the same thing,” he said.
Despite being able to overcome the childhood challenges of substance abuse in the home, Mario said there were certainly moments when drugs came into play.
“Fortunately it was nothing hardcore,” he recalled. “And I’m grateful it wasn’t for me, but environmental factors can exert such a strong influence on youngsters simply trying to find their way.“
“Lots of times kids become introverts and fight a lot of bad demons within themselves because they feel like they aren’t accepted or aren’t like the other kids [who are shown lots of love]. They feel neglected like they aren’t important or see themselves and their opinions mattering very little to the people around them,” he explained.
“Basically their confidence and hope are stripped away because of inexperience and they begin to sense an internal pain because they don’t know—I’m saying this because I went through it―they don’t realize it’s not their fault that their parents are the way they are,” he said.
To Mario, lack of motherly and fatherly love can relegate kids to finding love elsewhere, such as in drugs at an early age, sex, gangs, guns, and street violence.
“They get caught up into that whole rim,” he said. “Something they can touch and feel. It’s like the art of love, the art of loving and feeling.”
“Baltimore is a rough city. It’s not a game or a joke. It’s a rough city and I just try to do my part and give back as much as I can and show other men my age and younger that there’s still hope to be better.”
He recounted had it not been for his musical career, he would have had to face many a situation confronting today’s challenged youth.
“I didn’t have any other positive influence to fall back on,” Mario remembers. “Or much else for that matter.”
In conjunction with local and national partners, the Mario Do Right Foundation supports community-based services and the improvement of programs devoted to youth in challenged communities affected by addiction.
This fall, the organization will roll out its “Do Right School-Based Initiative” placing mental health professionals in two schools to assist children negatively affected by substance abuse in the home. The program will offer mentorship, support and treatment.
“We are putting personal mental health counselors in the schools and paving the way for parents to get help at treatment centers,” he said. “This is the first time this is being done [in Baltimore] and there’s not another program like it.”
Lamenting that often parents can get help for their addictions through treatment centers but that their children, likely to be more psychologically affected, do not get the necessary help, he pointed out, “We now have a pilot program at the Mario Do Right Foundation that will help both the child and parent.”
Education and Inspiration
It is this effort to foster ongoing education and inspiration—and innovation in the search for workable solutions to one of society’s most intractable problems—that Mario uses part of his celebrity to make public appearances in the schools and share his message of hope with students.
“It’s cool and the kids are amazing. They are bright,” he said, reflecting on the positive way students have welcomed him during his speaking engagements.
“First it’s like they are excited about the fact I am a relatively well-known artist visiting their school,” he said. “But when you get off the surface stuff and try to delve into deeper things, it’s amazing to see the transition in the room and how the mood goes from excitement to gravely emotional. It’s a fulfilling, connecting experience for me. And I am humbled and inspired every time.”
Mario sometimes uses Skype to speak to kids in the schools, “just to let them know I am serious about helping and inspiring them. That’s how I connect with them, when I cannot go to the actual school,” he said.
“I think the most important thing kids should do is aspire to become leaders, develop and maintain a high self-esteem and never let a drug hold them captive – something that they need every single day to survive, work and be inspired,” he advised.
In Mario’s estimation, today’s youth should be inspired to work hard because they are individuals blessed by God with talents.
“It’s just about finding out what your passion is, developing it, striving for the best and trying to stay focused,” he said. Drugs take you off your focus. I’m not saying they make you a bad person or make you lower than anybody else but they definitely mess up your focus.”
He went on to reflect how the Mario Do Right Foundation boasts so many success stories.
“I cannot say one thing because it’s all kind of connected. I think one of the biggest successes is getting the support of other people — gaining the support of the City of Baltimore, particularly, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, to help push this [vision] along. She’s really an amazing person and has already helped to influence people to get involved. That’s huge to me,” he said.
“I know our vision and I’m confident in my team and what we can do but to have the support of people who truly matter and who can help really push things through is important to me.”
Advice for Youngsters
“The biggest advice I have is: Don’t become a victim of drug abuse. No one is immune to it,” he said, adding that one can become addicted to drugs at any age.
He added: “If you feel you are at home and are being affected psychologically or emotionally by drug abuse, talk to somebody. Don’t be afraid to tell your story or express yourself because lots of people are going through the same thing.
“Certainly, there are lots of people who endure the same type of pain, neglect and isolation. I just think kids need to understand they don’t have to feel they are any less of a person or less important just because of their experiences.”
To learn more about Mario and the Mario Do Right Foundation visit http://www.mariodoright.org.
“You can make a donation right on our site,” he said. “Right now we are developing a message board for the foundation where kids can visit and share their stories with other kids or adults – whoever. So I’m excited about that and the potential it represents.”
Ultimately, Mario and the Mario Do Right Foundation continue to hope for the best of change as they work diligently toward the foundation’s core philosophy: “Intervention and investment in the lives of children living with a drug-addicted parent to create an environment where those children are empowered with the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Listen to full interview with Mario by clicking the play button below
View Mario’s birthday message and help support his foundation
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