R&B Star Mario Mentors Kids Impacted by Drugs

By Victoria Kim 04/29/13

The Grammy-nominated singer tells The Fix about working with kids who grow up, as he did, with addiction in their homes.

Mario with some of his mentees. Photo via

Grammy-nominated R&B singer and songwriter Mario Barrett, better known as "Mario," established the Mario Do Right Foundation in 2007 to mentor and educate kids impacted by drugs in their homes and communities. The 26-year-old Baltimore native says that his own experiences of growing up with a drug-addicted mother, and losing family members and friends to addiction, inspired him to work with kids in similar situations. "I saw the detrimental effect that drugs had on my family and peers, mentally, physically and spiritually," he tells The Fix. "I saw a lot of family members pass away from overdoses and long-term drug use." Through his foundation, he started "Live Right Do Right"—a 16-week after-school program to educate kids about avoiding drug problems, while encouraging them to share about their personal experiences and their home life. Live Right Do Right's motto is "Act out of choice rather than habit," and its aim is to equip kids to deal with peer pressure and make their own decisions about drugs and alcohol. The program also offers family counseling as well as education for teachers and school staff on how to support students with addicted family members. "A lot of these kids feel alienated because they live in crazy situations where they're up late at night doing adult duties like taking care of their family," says Barrett. "This program gives the school the opportunity to learn who their students are. I believe that teachers have the responsibility of being parents in terms of the social and mental health of the kids."

A big part of Barrett's role in the program involves sharing his own personal experiences (either in person or via Skype video chat), to help the kids feel more comfortable opening up about what's going on at home. "I never got help or had anybody to talk to about my mother's addiction to drugs," he tells us. "I want to inspire these kids to take another route and let them know they're not alone. I want them to understand that they can learn and build from their experiences." Live Right Do Right currently operates in Barrett's hometown of Baltimore, but plans to expand to Philly too. Earlier this month, the foundation joined forces with The Medicine Abuse Project, led by The Partnership at Drugfree.org. And this August, Barrett is kicking off a nationwide tour of middle schools, high schools and colleges to speak about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. An estimated one in four teens has tried unprescribed Rx drugs. "A lot of kids use it to help their moods," Barrett tells us. "We want to tell them that if they're going to use [Rx drugs], don't abuse them." Meanwhile Mario is also working on his music; the chart-topping singer is set to release an album in the fall.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr