Three of Nick Menn's friends died of heroin overdose or heroin-related suicide in less than a year.
It was a sobering time for the 25-year-old rapper from Fairview Heights. He wrote an anti-heroin song called "Hero Inside" and posted a recording on YouTube.
"It was just the best way I could think of to express myself in a sane manner," Nick said. "I just really wanted to highlight the issue."
Three years later, Nick is releasing a music video for the song (heroinside.org/video), hoping to spread his message further. He produced it through Doorway, a record label he created with about 10 friends.
The same group is organizing the second-annual Hero Inside Day at Moody Park (formerly Longacre). The public is invited to enjoy family friendly activities from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday.
The idea is to get people talking openly about heroin, just as they do with alcoholism and other drug abuse.
"People are ashamed (of heroin use)," said Daniel Horrell, 24, of Lebanon, a rock and blues singer with Doorway.
"The families are ashamed. The addicts are ashamed. They go to these Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but it's kind of underground. We want to bring light to the whole situation, so we can solve the problem."
Nick and friends also have created the Hero Inside Organization to raise money, share information and provide support.
The 20-somethings purposely decided to strike out on their own instead of volunteering for an established anti-heroin organization.
"We wanted it to have a young, positive vibe (and focus on prevention)," said Glenn Cole, 24, of Belleville.
"Other organizations are run by people who have already lost people to heroin. They put out this sad, angry vibe. They're using it to deal with their loss."
Hero Inside Day activities will include live music, a car show, Wiffle Ball tournament, St. Louis Rams cheerleaders, children's activities, food and non-alcoholic beverages.
Admission is free. Donations will go to the Brandon Duren Fight Against Heroin Foundation.
The non-profit foundation is named for a 22-year-old Baldwin man who died of a heroin overdose in 2011. It helps addicts pay for treatment and families pay for funerals.
"Most of these deaths are in the 18-to-25-year-old range," said volunteer Debbie Blaylock, 59, of Caseyville. "Most people don't even think to have life insurance on their kids at these ages. It takes them by surprise."
Debbie got involved because of her nephew, Brad Martin, 26, of Fairview Heights. He committed suicide in 2011 after seeking treatment for heroin addiction twice.
Debbie has been helping Nick and friends plan Hero Inside Day. Fairview Heights alderman Josh Frawley has thrown in his support.
"I think it's awesome," Debbie said. "It's fantastic. (The rappers are) getting the word out there, and the younger kids can relate to it. They're listening to them because they like the music."
Debbie noted Doorway artists can perform "clean" versions of "Hero Inside" and other songs that feature explicit lyrics in adult settings.
The Hero Inside Organization collected $750 in donations at last year's Hero Inside Day at Pleasant Ridge Park and gave it to the Duren foundation.
Such efforts have inspired Scott Rose, 50, of Fairview Heights, Doorway's general manager and owner of the recording studio. His 24-year-old son, Cory, is the label's engineer.
"What these guys are doing ... It humbles me," Scott said. "I haven't spent much of my life around artists or musicians, and hanging out with these guys has shown me a side of happiness and positive energy I've never felt with other people."
In 2013, Riverfront Times readers picked Nick as one of the 13 best rappers in St. Louis. Sometimes he performs with friends under the name Doorway, which was voted best hip-hop group.
Entertainment still is their main focus, but now that fans have died of heroin, they also see music as a tool for activism.
"It seems there's just a gigantic wave of heroin use in this area," Daniel said. "I've done research and, according to detox centers, the Midwest is one of the highest-ranking places.
"The reality of it all is we're still learning ourselves about the mentality of addiction and everything that goes along with it."
At a glance
What: Hero Inside Day
When: Noon to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Moody Park in Fairview Heights (formerly Longacre)
Admission: Free (donations welcome)
Information: Visit heroinside.org