By Juanita I.C. Traughber, Director of Marketing & Communications
For more than nearly 30 years, USN High Schoolers have paused their academic studies to spend a day engaging with the community and lending their hands. This year’s Community Action Day was planned by Binyam Dunne '26, Asauda Radford '25, Nick Venable '24, and Gidgie Bass '24 with the help of High School Director of Service Learning Mike Jones. Students and faculty began the day gathered in Durnan Auditorium to hear from USN parent of an alumnus Megan Barry about substance use disorder and her family’s heartbreaking story.
“We encourage you all to explore issues that are personal to you and to find ways to turn your passion into purpose,” Gidgie told her peers. “And if there's anyone who's qualified to discuss her personal experience and even profound loss can be reshaped into service to the public good, it’s Megan Barry.”
Barry shared the struggle of Max Barry ’13 with addiction and her son’s fatal overdose in 2017 while she was mayor of Nashville. Since then, she has traveled across the nation to urge leaders to fight the stigma surrounding substance abuse and continuously advocated on stages, on television, in magazines, and in newspapers.
“I get to talk about what happens when we don't bring substance use disorder out of the shadows,” Barry said. “I'm going to talk to you today about what happens when shame and guilt continue because when we don't talk about this insidious disease, there are consequences, real consequences.”
She highlighted the need for compassion and understanding in understanding substance use disorder and emphasized the importance of early intervention and advocacy to address the opioid crisis and break the stigma surrounding addiction.
Opioid use has skyrocketed globally with 61 million people affected globally, primarily in the United States and involving “heavyweights” and fentanyl, said Barry, adding that overdose deaths in 2023 skyrocketed to 112,000, with Nashville ranking eighth in the country.
Barry underscored the importance of community action in fighting substance use disorder. Barry urged students to treat drug misuse and addiction as a public health crisis by locking up prescription drugs, returning unused drugs to their pharmacy or a police station, advocating for the placement of Narcan in schools and the right to carry the over-the-counter nasal spray used to treat opioid overdose, speaking up for drug company settlement money be used for drug treatment programs, and voting for people whose values align with their beliefs.
“When you're here [at USN], you are witnessing unity. And people are asking for help or struggling or trying to figure out how to do something as easy as a change exercise, I think we have to remember that. In that aspect of community, we find a lot of answers. When you ask somebody for help, and when you ask somebody if you can help them, it makes a huge difference,” Barry said.
Students and faculty then took buses to neighborhoods across Nashville to create crafts with the elderly, organize food pantries and school supplies, read to and play with elementary school students, and spruce up nonprofit buildings and parks by cleaning and painting.
“We have this request for you: take the next step and go through it. Find an organization you have a passion for. Send the email,” said Nick. Don’t let Community Action Day be your only day of service.”