Musician and motivational speaker Robb Nash was at a hockey game recently when a woman walked up and asked to see his arm. Nash was quick to oblige, pulling up his right sleeve to reveal dozens of names of troubled youth tattooed from tricep to wrist. Each name is of a person who contemplated suicide but then chose to live, thanks to the music and messages of hope from his Robb Nash Project.
Within seconds, the woman located her daughter's name and began to weep. "I don't know how to thank you," she told the Manitoba-born rocker, whose band goes to more than 200 schools each year to talk to people about suicide, addiction and mental health, based on his own personal struggles.
Since the project started in 2009, Nash and his team have reached more than a million students through school shows and social media. More recently, the Robb Nash Project has been working to produce "super shows," which bring together multiple schools in one large venue to reach as many students as possible.
"We aren't trying to change the world; we're trying to create world changers," Nash says.
Nash often shows his signature-filled arm at events as a way to reach his audience: “If you think you're alone, you're not. These are all signatures of people who felt this way once too,” he tells the crowd.
To date, Nash has received more than 800 handwritten suicide notes from young people after his concerts, which doesn't include the ones that have been ripped up or deleted from computers or mobile phones. The authors tell Nash they contemplated taking their own lives, but that his story and concert helped to change their minds.
Robb Nash performs in Calgary (Credit: Facebook)
The trend started at a school in Ontario years back, where Nash was invited to speak on general topics of bullying, mental health and addiction after a student recently took her life. The staff told Nash the girl had a suicide pact with a friend, but they weren't sure which one.
At that concert, Nash first publicly revealed his own battle with suicidal thoughts years earlier, and said to the crowd, "I know someone in this room is considering suicide, too." He urged them not to. Urging the crowd to 'keep walking because there is someone out there who needs your story.'
After the event, a young woman approached him with mascara running down her face from crying. She handed Nash her suicide note saying, thanks to his words and music, she felt she no longer needed it. Nash was deeply moved and has been speaking out about his own battle with mental illness — and collecting notes from some audience members — ever since.
Nash's battle with depression came following a near-fatal car accident at age 17. He was found not breathing with no pulse by a first responder who resuscitated him. His recovery was difficult and left both physical and emotional scars. Nash recalls being bitter and angry at the time.
"Everyone kept saying to me 'everything happens for a reason,' and that I had to figure it out; why did this happen to me," Nash recalls. (His friend was driving the car when it was hit head-on by a semi-truck. Nash suffered the worst injuries.) "I would lie there trying to figure out why it happened. I assumed it was because I was a bad kid, that I had done something wrong and was being punished. That's where I really spiraled out of control."
For almost two years, Nash says he didn't want to live until a friend changed his outlook. "Why did this happen to me? My friend said, 'It was because you were in a car going too fast on an icy road. It's that simple.' It set me free," Nash says. "Bad things don't happen for a reason, but they happen with potential, both good and bad."
From there, Nash decided to use music to help others battle issues such as addiction and mental illness. "I decided I wanted to tell my story so that other people wouldn't have to die like I did before they start to live."
He started a band — appropriately named Live On Arrival (or LOA) — which had songs in the Canadian Top 10, and after a few years began touring with some major U.S. rock bands. Then, Nash was offered a chance to go on a nine-month, unpaid tour of schools to play music and talk to youth about overcoming difficult times in life. By this time, Nash had become disillusioned with the rock-and-roll lifestyle he was pursuing and chose the school tour. He even refinanced his home to support his choice.
"Everyone thought I was crazy," Nash says of his decision at the time. "But it just felt right. Too often, in life, we lead with our brain, or what we feel we should do when we should listen to our hearts first. I was never a big risk taker or dreamer, but when you've died once it's easier to take risks."
That nine-month tour has lasted nine years and gains momentum each year, fuelled by a growing need for youth battling depression, anxiety, addiction, bullying and suicidal thoughts. Today, the Robb Nash Project runs on the kindness of people and organizations that support the cause, including musicians and producers, as well as transportation companies and financial services firms which donate time, money and services like gas and flights to keep the concerts going.
Both RBC Wealth Management and The RBC Foundation have provided ongoing support to the Robb Nash Project for some time.
The Nash cause was brought to the attention of RBC Wealth Management in the fall of 2013 when Vince Boschman, vice president, portfolio manager and wealth advisor at RBC Dominion Securities in Winnipeg, attended a Nash concert. He then took the Nash story to a business meeting of RBC executives.
“When we heard Robb's story, we knew this was a cause our firm would be eager to support," says David Agnew, CEO, RBC Wealth Management - Canada. “We are proud to be donating our time and resources to helping the Robb Nash Project share their message with youth across Canada. It's an issue that affects Canadians from all socioeconomic backgrounds and together, we hope we can make a positive impact."
"Everything is about reaching more kids," says Boschman. "People see the shows and are impacted by them and want to get involved, just as I did. As Robb says, 'People feel better when they're doing something for other people.'"
RBC Wealth Management is the largest corporate donor to the Robb Nash Project to date and will continue that support in 2019.