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September 07, 2023 (Cleveland, OH)

Waves of Awareness Event Unites Community on Overdose Awareness Day

On Aug. 31, International Overdose Awareness Day, Cleveland’s Public Square was host to the inaugural Waves of Awareness event, which featured day-long activities to unite communities across Northeast Ohio to honor and remember those lost to accidental overdoses, share resources for treatment and help end the stigma of substance use disorders (SUDs).

The event included speakers from the community and public officials — including Cleveland Director of Public Health Dr. David Margolius and Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne — and culminated in a candlelit walk of remembrance at dusk and the purple lighting of Progressive Field, Terminal Tower and Public Square.

Organized by a coalition, led by Stella Maris — a Cleveland-based organization that provides addiction treatment services — the day commenced at 11:30 a.m. with a video slideshow featuring images of people lost to drug poisonings. During the slideshow, bells rang as people stood nearly silent for approximately 18 minutes, with each ring of the bell coinciding with an image of the slideshow. Additionally, symbolizing each victim, the National Guard placed 5,000 purple flags on the square’s lawn for each Ohioan lost in 2022.

The day’s activities attracted a vast audience of business leaders, families, professional healthcare providers, individuals in recovery, and more. Attendees were able to participate in yoga, enjoy music and food trucks, engage with more than 60 exhibitors and community partners, and hear stories of loss and recovery directly from individuals.

The Center for Health Affairs — one of the sponsors of the event — presented its documentary, Igniting Compassion, on the main stage. The film was introduced by Carrie Lang, project manager, nonprofit and opioid programs at The Center, producer of the film and a member of the coalition that planned Waves of Awareness along with fellow coalition member, Sara Szelagowski, founder of Project White Butterfly and Igniting Compassion storyteller.

“Working with the Waves of Awareness coalition was an absolute honor. With excellent leadership from Kelli Wall at Stella Maris, we planned a day-long event to honor the lives of Ohioans lost to drug poisonings and share resources and hope to prevent future drug poisoning deaths,” said Lang. “I am thankful for the connections made through this event and for the opportunity to share our local documentary, Igniting Compassion, with the late afternoon crowd.”

Featuring people in recovery and clinicians in Cleveland, OH, the documentary was another opportunity for the audience to hear directly from people in their community who have experienced or treated SUDs. In addition to Sara Szelagowski, another storyteller featured in the film, Jerome Reeves, served as DJ of the event, providing the audience with music and information between speakers on the main stage.

The documentary can be viewed on The Center for Health Affairs’ YouTube channel.