BRICK – Over 500 posters were on display at Brick Memorial High school, featuring photos of people who lost their lives to addiction.
The display works as a silent memorial, showing each person’s story along with their photo. Despite these individuals being from all over the country, they all shared one thing in common.
The Black Poster Project was created by Dee Gillen, who lost her son Scott to a heroin/fentanyl overdose in 2015. While preparing for an overdose awareness event in 2019, Dee said she wanted to have posters of lost loved ones displayed as she felt it would be an impactful visual.
“I started the project three years ago with about 50 posters and it’s grown by word of mouth to the point where we decided to make it a project, make it something we can travel around with,” Dee said. “I was a part of an alumni in recovery and a parent program and when the community meetings would go to different towns, we’d bring the posters so that people could look at them prior to the meetings starting.”
Dee explained how after COVID hit, her along with colleague Glynis Burke came up with the idea of doing the traveling displays and opening it up to the public for free. Today, the Black Poster Project has grown to 521 posters.
“The thing that’s really special about what we do, working with alumni in recovery, is there are either people in recovery or grieving families working side by side with people in recovering and it’s such an unusual connection,” Dee said. “You don’t see that a lot. You either see grief groups or recovery groups. So, this event is a perfect example.
“For people like us who have lost our child after so many years of rehab and trying to save them, and they’re gone now; what happens next? Now what do we do? The people in recovery, they embrace people who have gone through it, who don’t have their loved one anymore. It’s a really unique combination and we’re really grateful to be a part of that,” Dee added.
“Being a part of alumni in recovery also brings hope to us and purpose to it. Purpose in that ‘what now? What do we do?’ Our child’s death is not in vain. How do you make sense of 500 kids, sons and daughters, parents, all from families. How do you make sense of that? In all of this it’s healing for us,” Glynis said.
Along with the 500 plus posters on display, there were two distinctive posters at this year’s event in Brick Township that stood apart from the rest.
Next to Kennedy Marie Clifford’s poster were six standing mirrors decorated with different words of affirmations. Kennedy committed suicide in 2014 and to honor her, her sister and best friends created the “Amazing Campaign.” They made shirts with “amazing” spelt backwards on it. So, when you looked in the mirror you see how amazing you are.
“The campaign was recently closed and they made a donation to the Black Poster Project. So, I display her poster to keep her memory alive,” Dee said.
The second unique display was in honor of James Evans, who died in 2020 from an addiction to medication after being shot and in the hospital for a month. Next to his poster stands separate posters with hundreds of caricatures drawn on them.
“These are James’ mom drawings, that’s her way of therapy for the loss of her son. She draws those intricate people; people that have lost their children or beloveds and they’ll send her a picture and she’ll draw a character and she does that for every holiday. She gave me her Halloween one and then I asked her if she would draw one for the black poster project. That board shows everyone in the display, and she plans to add more people in,” Dee said.
This is the third year the Black Poster Project has been on display in Brick Township, with the project continuing to travel all throughout the state. The Brick Township Police Department was present with an unused medication drop box, free Narcan training, along with the Brick Municipal Anti-Drug Coalition and other vendors.
“It’s not for everyone. It’s extremely heavy work and it’s difficult for a lot of people to decide to participate. It’s all very respectful the way we handle it,” Dee said.
To learn more about the Black Poster Project or to make a donation, visit theblackposterproject.com.