BOSTON — Justin Clancy stood before a crowd of high school kids, microphone in hand, and told them if it wasn’t for music he would be dead.
The inspirational speech happened Friday night in Boston, during the Lynn resident’s benefit show for Northshore Recovery High School, the Beverly alternative support school for students who struggle with substance abuse disorders. Not only did Clancy make sure all the show’s proceeds went directly to the school, his opening acts were students who are part of the school’s music program, led by Jake Zeigler.
“All my friends growing up went to that high school,” Clancy said. “I didn’t know it was an option for me until it was too late. “It’s so important to have a safe place for these kids where educators are nurturing them, rather than dictating them or putting them down for behavioral challenges.”
The 24-year-old Peabody native has received hundreds of thousands of views and listens to his music, especially songs “TV Dinner” and “The Bottom Line,” both from his debut album “The Color Blue,” in the last two years.
Clancy had his own struggles with addiction growing up. As a kid, he used music as a coping mechanism, but said he didn’t artistically find himself until he became clean and sober at the age of 19. A few years ago he became the co-founder of a non-profit organization called New England Addiction Outreach (NEAO) and he used to work as a community outreach coordinator and treatment advisor for a center in Wilmington.
He said, as a teenager, his public school system failed him, which is why he ended up dropping out of high school. But, if you were to ask him, he will tell you that never stopped him from pursuing his dreams.
“Public schools are designed to put down issues that ‘normal kids’ don’t have,” he said. “Recovery High nurtures them, loves them and cares for their well being rather than just their MCAS scores … If I can be there for these kids and show them the best high ever, which is performing, then that is what it’s all about.”
A few months ago, Clancy said he visited the school and met with Zeigler, an old friend, and Principal Michelle Lipinski. He came across the music room where kids were practicing and saw the same passion in them that he has for music, he said. He pulled through with some resources and began organizing the benefit show.
The students, Oliver Ruthurford, or “Lil Zip,” Amber Murch, or “Lul RXSE,” Faith Brock, Joey Torsney, and Matt Ethelerio, spent the entire summer rehearsing for Friday’s show. Their performances were unique and entertaining and the stage presence of each performer was top notch.
Brock, 18, graduated from Recovery High in the spring. The Marblehead native said she would be dead if she never went there. She called the school, where she now works as a peer mentor and recovery coach, her second family.
Her vocal performance, backed up by the band called “Resurrection,” was absolutely breathtaking. It may have been her first time ever performing on stage, but she blew the house down with her confidence and talent.
“I didn’t even want to do the performance at first because I didn’t think it was an option for me,” Brock said. “But my former art teacher at the school convinced me to do it. I have to admit this whole thing has been amazing and I’m really grateful for this opportunity. Music is a form of therapy for me, where I can get my feelings out and onto paper … “I think this show is going to open a lot of doors for our school’s music program.”
Even after a successful benefit show, Clancy said he’s not done providing a nurturing platform for kids that have followed a similar path as his. He recently announced his move to Los Angeles, where a whole lot of opportunities and people are waiting for him, he said.
“I’m not going to change up just because I’m somewhere else,” Clancy said. “I’ve never grown in comfortability. I am notorious for throwing myself into the fire in order to grow and succeed because I know if I’m comfortable somewhere, I’m not going to succeed.”
The performer is planning a farewell show at Sonia in Cambridge on Oct. 4, before he takes his packed bags and heads to California.
“I want to go there and win for everybody back home and bring it back here,” he said. “I haven’t even gotten started yet. Just wait.”