‘Black Pearl Project’ works to turn grief into a gift through support and awareness

June 12, 2024, 5 a.m. ·

Josh and Stacy Nehring
Josh and Stacy Nehring. (Photo courtesy of SRVIVRS)

In 2017, former Lincoln residents Josh and Stacy Nehring lost their teenage daughter in a car crash. They turned their grief into service, creating a non-profit, SRVIVRS, and The Black Pearl Project, where Josh is running to every state capitol in the country.

DALE JOHNSON: Explain how you running is helping others with their grief.

JOSH NEHRING: This project that we're doing, the Black Pearl Project, it's an awareness campaign to help others transform that grief into a gift through service. When you surround yourself with the support of others, whether that comes voluntarily or not, you feel a difference. You feel helped and me going out and running is more or less a vehicle to raise that awareness to let people know about survivors organization.

JOHNSON: You mentioned the name of the project, Black Pearl Project, from where did the name come?

NEHRING: The Black Pearl Project comes because I have an affinity towards that process of pearls forming. And the black pearls, I lived in the Cook Islands for a little while as a missionary and that's where some of them natively grow. So I've always loved the Black Pearl since serving there. Pearls are formed as the result of an irritant, Dale. It's perceived to that shellfish as threatening and a caustic, life threatening event. And that shellfish responds by surrounding the irritant with layers of self preserving nacre and ends up leading to this creation of this gift or this pearl that we then seek after, and it's precious. When death is thrust into our lives, it has the same negative dark perception that if we look at that, and we respond to it with layer upon layer of service, around that irritant of death, it can allow us to transform that grief and that hurt and that darkness into a gift. And it becomes a personalized and an individually unique Black Pearl, if you will.

JOHNSON: Josh, what do you tell people who learn of your effort and come up to you having lost a loved one and ask the question, “Will I ever get over this?”

NEHRING: One, I don't want you to ever try and get over this. It's not something to get over. That's something to embrace, something to accept, something to receive. And then as you receive, and then you embrace that, then you have some power that comes to you that can transform your life, as you then live daily, in memory or in honor of that individual that you desperately miss.

JOHNSON: How would you describe your grieving?

NEHRING: I'm not quite sure how to think about that question. Grief is going to be with me for the rest of my life. But that grief is a motivating factor. When it comes, it reminds me that I love my daughter tremendously. And it reminds me that she wants me to be the best dad, the best husband, the best person that I can be to all those that I have the opportunity to be around in life.

JOHNSON: I want to bring your wife Stacy into this conversation, in that she is the CEO of the nonprofit “Live Like Lilly”, incorporating the “Look Up” ad campaign. The goal is to get young people to think about their phone usage, the distraction while driving and live outside the screen, can you can you talk a little bit about her effort?

NEHRING: Three things have come about in our community here in Rapid City as a result of Stacy's efforts. The one that you're speaking of is the look up ad campaign Lilly never had a cell phone. And we feel like that's one of the gifts that really hadn't, it's not that we outlawed it, she just was so interested in other things that wasn't a high priority for her and we felt like that really helped her to live life more fully. So we've made an effort, Stacy specifically, to help teens in the middle schools think of that concept of what would life be like without my phone? How can I look up and live and get off of the screen and find purpose in life. She's also done a dance scholarship with Live Like Lilly which has allowed girls that have not come from very fortunate circumstances be able to obtain a dance scholarship at a local dance studio. And then she does a day of kindness in the middle schools as well, where we have the youth do acts of kindness and focus on kindness for a day. And then we partner them with a corporate sponsorship in the community that will then turn those acts of kindness into dollars. The students get to choose a nonprofit in the community to donate those kinds of dollars back to. We've done that up to date, we're over 27,000 acts of kindness in the last six years since we started that.

JOHNSON: The goal is to run 17,000 miles across 48 states in a single calendar year. Josh Nehring will be in Lincoln Thursday the 13th. If his schedule holds and the weather allows, he'll be at the state Capitol building. Good luck and thank you for taking time to talk about Lilly and your efforts.

NEHRING: Thanks, Dale. And I hope that we can invite anybody that listens to this or be a part of this to go to thirdeyesurvivors.org and help us. Join us by moving in memory of your loved one or submitting a name that you would like me to move in memory of the days they passed. And we'd love to join with people across the nation to do this effort.

JOHNSON: I'm Dale Johnson, Nebraska Public Media News.