If there were any doubts about the power of music, they were cast aside by the Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations when one of its teenage residents won a clean bill of health and a trip to the Grammy Awards rehearsal.
Things didn’t always look so bright for Kevin Simmons, a Clarkston 17-year-old once bound for a drug- and alcohol-fueled race to ruin.
Now he’s going to have to buy some shades for a January junket to Southern California.
“The music program and the Grammy prize opened my eyes to better things I can do other than drugs,” said Simmons.
He recently was awarded second place in the Teen Substance Abuse Awareness through Music Contest, sponsored by the MusiCares and GRAMMY Foundation in collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
He also won a trip home after spending 98 days clean, sober and motivated at the Healing Lodge, a youth chemical dependency treatment center in Spokane Valley.
It was Simmons’s third trip to the Healing Lodge, a 45-bed facility that each year treats about 200 youths ages 13 to 17. The facility was founded in 1988 by seven Northwest tribes confronted by an epidemic of teen drug and alcohol abuse.
Though 70 percent of residents are Native, Simmons is not.
“The first time was court-ordered and I wasn’t motivated,” said Simmons, who at age 15 returned home to temptation and relapse.
After his second time at the Healing Lodge, Simmons relapsed after 60 days.
“I was at that point I just didn’t care anymore,” said Simmons, who had run-ins with the law.
The difference this time, he believes, is that he made the decision to get help on his own. When he returned to the Healing Lodge this year, he entered the Expressive Arts Program, in which residents, write, produce and perform music that reflects their life experience.
“He picked it up real fast,” said Deekon Jones, 26, a Nez Perce tribal member, audio engineer and recording artist who manages the innovative program integrating music and therapy.
With Jones’ guidance and music, Simmons wrote and performed a hip-hop song titled “My Life,” about his descent into substance abuse and rehabilitation.
Here’s a verse from the song:
Now I ain’t numb and I got back my feeling. I can’t change the game but I can change who I am, and better believe imma do the best that I can.
“A lot of kids choose hip-hop because the people they idolize grew up the way they did,” Jones said.
Simmons said people believe that hip-hop is about nothing but sex drug and parties, “but I want to show it is a way of expressing yourself.”
He started using drugs at age 11, he said, “just to be cool at first, but it escalated into an everyday thing.”
Now the youth returns to his family in Clarkston with a GED earned at the Healing Lodge’s alternative school and a spiritual awakening grounded in Native culture.
Back in Clarkston, he will start out-patient drug treatment program and promises he will continue to write songs.
As a finalist in the Teen Substance Abuse Awareness contest, he and a guest will visit backstage at the 54th annual Grammy Awards rehearsal Jan. 10 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“My Life” will be posted on the MusiCares, Grammy 365 and MTV Act Blog websites, as well as the Above the Influence Campaign site sponsored by the National Youth Ant-Drug Media Campaign, a program of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Simmons wants other addicted youths to know that if he can do it, so can they.
“You can help yourself if you really want it,” Simmons said.
A few days after the Healing Lodge learned of Simmons’s award, Jones, the program manager, was honored as well.
He received a call from the White House notifying him that he was selected as one of 15 American Indian and Alaska Native finalists in the Native Youth Challenge program for his leadership and service to community.
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