Project Silence No More

Johnston Alumni start non-profit dedicated to spreading awareness about mental health


Sarah Nelson

Statistics provided by The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention.

Megan Walker and Sarah Nelson

Most students are aware of the school’s history of students committing suicide, and how the deaths of these individuals affect the whole community. Despite the experiences formed from these losses, many members still struggle with the complexities of mental health. Instead of standing by, Johnston alumni Marcus Miller ‘15, Luke Johnson ‘15 and Tristan Coaldrake ‘15 decided to stand up by creating Project Silence No More, a non-profit dedicated to spreading awareness about mental health.

Miller, now a junior at the University of Iowa, speaks on the overall message of the non-profit. “If we had to summarize our mission in one sentence, it would be to get the conversation started, to start talking about mental health,” Miller said. “It’s okay to have these feelings, but the cure to that isn’t silence, it’s to talk about it.”

Miller’s open letter that addresses his concerns can be found here.

Johnson and the other Project Silence No More co-founders all had personal experiences that lead them to found the group. “I know Marcus (Miller) and Tristan (Coaldrake) are really passionate about it too, having experienced similar stuff,” Johnson said. “They’re guys that I trust and love. I’m glad that something is happening over everything, it’s been a need for a while.”

Johnson’s open letter can be found here.

The urge to take action grew in Coaldrake for years. “I think there had been a constant urge, or a constant itching in all of us since the first one (suicide) that happened in our lives freshmen year,” Coaldrake said. “I think finally we reached a breaking point where we just said screw it, we can keep saying things aren’t gonna work out, but as long as we’re not trying to do it, we can’t realistically say it’s not going to work,” Coaldrake said.

Each of the founders was personally impacted by the effects of suicide and mental health.  “My freshman year (attending high school), I had a classmate who committed suicide, and that was the first time I had experienced that on a personal level,” Miller said. “Then the most recent one, Dawson (Kerr), happened and he and I were pretty good friends in high school and I think that kind of reminded me there is a big problem.”

Kerr graduated in 2015, the same year as the founding members. Johnson said his need to do more stems from Kerr. “He was a friend that graduated with me, and just recently committed suicide,” he said. “I think an organization or movement like this has been inevitable for a long time and after Dawson, I couldn’t just sit back any longer and wait for somebody else to create something that should’ve happened six or seven years ago.”

Creating Project Silence No More helped Coaldrake opens up about his own struggles with mental health. “I’ve been there, I’ve gone to a therapist, I’ve dealt with depression, it’s not something I’m ashamed of, it’s not something I’m afraid to admit to anybody, but it took a while to get there,” Coaldrake said. “We just want to normalize the conversation.”

Everyone has different perspectives and views events through a subjective lens. I don’t think the goal is to eliminate bias, I don’t think that’s even possible, nor would I argue that it’s a good idea. Let’s increase diversity, not try to dilute it. I think we just need to identify it to be aware of its consequences.

— Marcus Miller

Each of the alumni wants a great future for Project Silence No More. “The group of friends, and the people I surround myself with, and even the people that I know throughout the community of Johnston as alumni, and the people that I graduated with, I know that everybody wants to help,” Coaldrake said. “Everybody has gone through the experience of the consequences and the aftermath of suicides and dealing with mental illness, as well as dealing with it personally themselves.”

Miller wants to set ultimate goals right away. Instead of being sidetracked with huge issues, he is narrowing it down to what he believes Project Silence No More can do in the next few years to create change. “We’re trying to connect alumni with former students, even with limitations due to distance of physical location,” Miller said. “We also want to potentially look to partner with the school so alumni can come back during winter or spring breaks to host panels or seminars.”

The alumni may no longer be in Johnston, but they also want to act as a resource for students who need it. “Our main goal, despite a lot of us not being in Johnston anymore, is to show that we care,” Miller said. “We’re still Dragons, and we’re still there for each other.”

A similar message is also spread by Coaldrake. “We’ve been gone for three or four years, but you still deeply, deeply care about the people you graduated with, and you’re not the only one,” Coaldrake said. “Everybody still cares about Johnston, everybody wants to make an impact and make it the best community possible.”

The alumni hope to achieve a larger scale of operation. “Our goal is to build this out with community members and stakeholders in Johnston who are just as passionate about this subject as we are,” Johnson said. “As we continue to grow, we want to make sure that we do it in a replicable manner so that other communities and school districts can create something similar in their own towns using our model.”

Reactions so far to Miller’s and Johnson’s original open letters have been positive and overwhelmingly supportive. Facebook shares and comments suggest that many want to be involved.

If you are interested in helping with Project Silence No More, or wanting to learn more about the nonprofit, feel free to fill out this google form.

You can also directly contact the alumni by emailing Marcus Miller at [email protected], Luke Johnson at [email protected], and Tristan Coaldrake at [email protected]. The group plans to have a website and a video up and running soon so they can better communicate their ideas to the community.