A professional actor who calls himself the “Vision Warrior” delivered the performance of his life at Langley High School last week.
Scot Anthony Robinson confronted the perils of the teen-age years. As “a foot soldier in the war on drugs,” he marched headlong into engagements that began when he first smoked marijuana at age 11.
Then, employing the formidable dramatic skill that won him roles like Daniel in “Malcolm X,” Black Jack in “Jungle Fever” and Cooley in “Mo’ Better Blues,” Robinson chronicled his progression through the modern perils that parents dread: beer, vodka, cocaine, heroin, crack, premarital sex, abortion, AIDS, rape, looting, guns, violence, suicide and murder.
On one coast or the other, in either New York or Los Angeles, he saw, felt, or experienced all but divorce or desertion by his warm, supportive family.
FROM A HOME OF PRIVILEGE with loving, concerned, supportive parents, Robinson went on to study fine arts and drama at the State University of New York at Purchase.
He described his first day at SUNY-Purchase in 1981, when the first sign he noticed wasn’t asking him to join a club. It said “Freshman keg party — beer.”
“Last week [in the United States], eight [college] freshmen died” of causes like alcohol poisoning and vehicular deaths that resulted from risky behavior, he said. “They didn’t even get past orientation.
“The epicenter of that was alcohol.”
When he coaxed the Langley students to recognize the stresses and fears they face, they named grades, girls, guns and drugs.
When Robinson asked the freshman and junior classes for a show of hands from those who’d felt stress, only about 35 hands went up in a gymnasium with standing room only.
But when he asked how many of the Langley students want to go to college; almost every hand went up.
“When you step onto that college campus, you’re gonna feel the pressure,” Robinson said.
WHEN HE GRADUATED, ROBINSON got an acting job on “All My Children.” He had opportunity and creative talent, and education. Even with those advantages, peer pressure and easy access propelled him through the progression to harder drugs. He got hooked on crack cocaine, lost 60 pounds in three months, and found himself looting a drugstore in Los Angeles.
To get more drugs, he gave a seller his shoes, pants and money.
“I’m standing in the streets of LA in my boxer shorts,” he said.
He returned to New York, where his wife told him he couldn’t come home because he was still an addict. He then became a homeless addict, he said.
His vivid portrayals of the urban drug front were by turns graphic, jolting and funny.
But along with the shock of the bare truths of his life, Robinson described his escape from a trajectory to certain death.
He gave warm descriptions of the people who threw him lifelines: his mother, his father, his college dean, his wife, his mother-in-law from Jamaica, who evolved from hating him for what he did to her daughter, to nursing him back into a human form when he lived with her during two years of rehabilitation.
ROBINSON ENGAGED his audience of freshmen and juniors early on by challenging those who were inattentive and facing them down.
He quickly won their rapt attention with his body language, street talk and graphic honesty about drug addiction.
He described waking up one night to copious sweating, violent vomiting and uncontrollable diarrhea. The outline of his body was offset in sweat on the bed sheets, he said.
“I threw up. It was like a waterfall,” he said. “I had stuff I didn’t recognize.” When he heard nervous laughter from the audience, Robinson turned deadly serious, asking them to imagine feeling violence and vulnerability at the same time.
When he had their rapt attention, he told them that “drugs ain’t coming at you, like, in some alleyway.
“They’re going to come to you in the form of somebody beautiful and successful — your best friend, sometimes.”
“You’re no different from Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, or anybody else who has succumbed to the ills of using drugs and alcohol,” he said.
“There are many children in this room that are coming from alcoholic families. You have been abandoned in some way,” he said.
“There are many walking wounded.”
Robinson talked to the sophomore and senior classes on Oct. 4 and spent two school days making himself available for face-to-face talks with students.
His visit was sponsored by the Langley High School PTSA, the Langley Parent Network and the Safe Community Coalition (SCC) for the Langley and McLean High School pyramids.
“We’ve got the most active pyramid, because we have so many committed parents,” said Jan Auerbach, president of the SCC. “There is a real strong core of committed people.”
The SCC receives federal grants from the Safe and Drugfree Youth Office, part of Fairfax County Public Schools. Each pyramid in the county is allotted an annual budget of $8,000 for programs to discourage alcohol and drug use among schoolchildren.
Robinson visited the Potomac School last February and is scheduled to visit Episcopal High School in Alexandria on Feb. 19, 2003.