Priscilla Behnke.

By Priscilla Behnke

A small team of Be Awesome Youth Coalition members attended a showing of the movie Chappaquiddick, the story of Ted Kennedy’s 1969 scandal that ended with a submerged car in a lake and a drowned passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne.

Most of the film is the story of how the affluent, connected and powerful family create a coverup to avoid life-changing consequences for the politician. For the most part they are successful. After some heat and uncomfortable confrontations, he is re-elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until his death nine years ago. The movie does a good job of showing how power can be corrupt.

I would argue there is the subtle point that many have missed with their hot takes on Twitter, the simple act of drinking too much and driving had the profound effect of ending a young, vibrant woman’s life.

A member in our group shared how her grandmother had been killed by a drunk driver before she even born. This loss has had a deep impact on her mother’s life. It was an unfair and preventable tragedy, all because someone engaged in the simple act of drinking alcohol. Kopechne had hopes, dreams and aspirations, and because alcohol and automobiles were mixed, she didn’t get to attempt them. Despite all the Kennedys’ affluence, it was alcohol’s influence that prevailed.

Each of us have something to offer this world. There are so many possibilities – caring parents raising great children, engineers designing the next fuel-efficient vehicle, a scientist developing a cure for cancer, a teacher inspiring a generation to read. Maricopa is a nice, little, isolated suburb nestled between stretches of highway. That doesn’t grant us any more immunity than a powerful political family’s privilege.

According to the Arizona State Crash Facts in 2016 (the most recent available data), there were 11 alcohol-related crashes in Maricopa in which an individual died as a result. A legacy ended here.

Protecting our legacy is crucial. While our children can suffer from something as unassuming as drinking, we can protect them with meaningful conversation. Ask them what they know about alcohol, what they think about drinking. What is going on at their school and with their peers. Tell them what you think about it, and how valuable they are and why you want them to wait until they are 21.

Be Awesome will be hosting forums and workshops on how to talk with our kids about the most popular substances.

Priscilla Behnke is program director for Maricopa Community Alliance Against Substance Abuse.

This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.


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