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Michael DeLeon, a former drug addict and gang member, will speak at WE Believe Saint John on May 18, 2023. Image: Steered Straight Inc.

Thousands of youth taking part in WE Believe Saint John

By Brad Perry May 18, 2023 | 6:05 AM

Michael DeLeon describes himself as a real-life cautionary tale.

The former drug addict and gang member spent 12 years in prison and halfway houses.

Now, he spends his time speaking with youth about the dangers of drugs, gangs and criminal activity.

DeLeon is one of several guest speakers lined up to take part in WE Believe Saint John on Thursday.

“We have a crisis in Canada, in America, all across the globe of addiction, drug addiction, and kids are getting started younger than ever,” DeLeon said in an interview.

WE Believe Saint John is a day-long event focused on mental health and the importance of volunteering.

More than 8,000 youth from the Maritimes and Maine will hear from several empowering musicians and speakers, including DeLeon.

“I wanted to be the cautionary tale to show kids that not only can you ruin your life, end up in prison or even die, but you don’t think it’s going to happen to you,” he said.

‘I ended up ruining my life’

Born in Ireland, DeLeon emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of five as the “happiest little kid in the world.”

DeLeon was a straight-A student with perfect attendance, but that all changed at the age of 11 when he started to experience trauma in his life.

“Unfortunately, I confided in an older kid in my neighbourhood who handed me a cigarette and invited me to a party where I consumed alcohol, and then invited me to another party where I was introduced to marijuana,” he said.

“It didn’t take long to progress through the cycles of hardcore drug use and addiction and I ended up ruining my life.”

After nearly eight years of drug addiction, DeLeon spent 12 years in state prison and halfway houses for a gang-related homicide. He had pled guilty to the murder of his own mother by people tasked to kill him.

Following his release from prison, DeLeon founded Steered Straight Inc. in 2007, a non-profit designed to carry an important message to youth on the dangers of drugs, gangs and criminal activity.

He has spoken to more than 14 million students and young adults across the United States and around the world.

“The most important message I want kids to take away is your choices and your decisions are what determine your life,” said DeLeon.

First WE Believe Saint John held in 2018

WE Believe Saint John began as a registered charity in 2016 to provide educational programs and materials to youth, families and communities.

Local teacher Dan Foote saw a need to support youth in our communities and for them to hear from people who have gone through similar struggles to show they can make a difference.

“We believe that when people come together, especially youth, positive change can and will take place. That’s really the crux of what WE Believe is all about,” Foote said in a recent interview.

The first event in 2018 filled TD Station in Saint John and saw more than 80,000 students and educators around the world watch online via livestream.

It was supposed to happen again in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to postpone it until this year.

“We want to put people on stage that the kids can relate to, that they can talk to,” said Foote.

Students cannot purchase a ticket to WE Believe Saint John. They must earn their way in by doing something positive, both locally and internationally.


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