Andy Mineo’s New Year’s resolution is less sentimental than Anthony Ruggiero’s, thanks to Mineo.
The 210-pound Reach Records rapper pledged to lose 15 pounds for his #YouCantStopMe challenge, a campaign created to build anticipation for his “You Can’t Stop Me” music video that dropped today, as well as motivate fans to challenge themselves.
“I feel like that song is so big, so motivational and so inviting to people from all different walks of life that why not create a call to action?” he told Rapzilla.
Ruggiero, a high school student from San Antonio, pledged to learn acoustic guitar for the #YCSM challenge. He plays bass guitar in his church’s praise band, but he wants to become a more versatile musician.
Two years ago, Ruggiero fell into a depression and quit the band. Mineo’s music played a role in his return, which Ruggiero’s #YCSM pledge wouldn’t exist without.
Self-described as an angry kid, Ruggiero, who grew up fatherless, was arrested for the first time in fifth grade. He brought a pocket knife to school and threatened a student who called him names. By the time he graduated elementary school, two different school districts had kicked him out for rebellious behavior.
Ruggiero mellowed in middle school but made friends with the wrong crowd. In seventh grade, his best friend introduced him to marijuana. They smoked before class every day, but the one morning Ruggiero sneaked it into school, a teacher caught him and he was arrested again.
His mother called a local pastor. They tried to convince Ruggiero to find God. Instead, he held onto his anger.
In eighth grade, another school district kicked him out for punching a student in a fight. Back at his original district in ninth grade, Ruggiero joined two extracurricular activities — the football team and drug dealing. Football season wore him out, so after it ended, he stopped caring about everything except dealing.
For the next few months, his older sister’s boyfriend Brian Morales tried to give him something else to care about. Morales repeatedly invited him to El Camino Bible Church, but Ruggiero repeatedly declined — until the one time he gave in.
Morales drove him to church that Sunday, but unbeknown to Ruggiero, the worship service would start three hours after Morales picked him up. They had arrived early because Morales played in the praise band.
When the band finished practicing, it walked backstage to pray, and Ruggiero walked onstage to grab a bass guitar. Having never played before, he began plucking its strings. Tim Zuniga, the worship leader, soon returned and asked if he knew David Crowder’s song “How He Loves” because, Zuniga said, it’s easy to teach.
Ruggiero said it was one of his favorites. It wasn’t. It was just one of the only Christian songs he had heard of.
Zuniga showed him how to play it. Moments later, the remainder of the band members reappeared, picked up their instruments and started to play “How He Loves” alongside Ruggiero.
Guitar gave Ruggiero a reason to return. He began to fill in as needed for Wednesday night youth services. Months later, he prayed to become a Christian and accepted an invitation from Zuniga to join the band.
Ruggiero’s tenure was brief. Mounting traumatic personal problems led him to quit the band. He stopped regularly attending church and started smoking marijuana again.
Bitter about the breakup, he began to neglect his former worship teammates whenever they crossed paths at school.
“Any time I had a chance to be rude to my friends, people who really cared about me, I did,” Ruggiero said.
His hostility developed into depression. He stopped smoking and isolated himself. His daily routine soon consisted of attending school, avoiding conversation and going home where he would enter his room, close the door, turn off the lights, lay in bed and listen to music the rest of the day.
Ruggiero’s routine was interrupted by his concerned mother, who drilled him with questions about his seclusion.
“What happened to all your friends?” she said. “What happened to Hector? What happened to Tim? What happened to Tony and Alyssa, the people who you say you love so much and were there when you needed someone? What happened to them?”
Ruggiero screamed he had stopped talking to them. Broken, he stomped to his room sobbing, sat on his bed and grabbed a belt. For the first time, the idea of suicide crossed his mind.
“Maybe I shouldn’t be around anymore,” Ruggiero said.
Mentally overwhelmed, Ruggiero wrapped the belt around his neck and squeezed. He let go, though, and cried until he fell asleep.
Despite his attempts to push them away, members of the El Camino praise team, like Hector Del Angel, regularly checked to see how he was doing. After nearly hurting himself, Ruggiero fessed up to Del Angel.
“At this point, I really don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m pretty messed up. Mentally and physically, I’m worn.”
Del Angel responded by giving him encouragement, Bible passages and a reminder to listen to Mineo and the 116 Clique’s music, which Ruggiero had become a fan of when he attended church.
“I don’t even care about any of that stuff anymore,” Ruggiero said.
Del Angel continued to encourage and preach, but Ruggiero ignored him.
Days later, Ruggiero’s struggles with schoolwork peaked on the same afternoon he found himself locked out of his house. After climbing in the kitchen window, he erupted, slamming drawers and utensils. Ruggiero grabbed a kitchen knife, giving himself the means to take his life, but his screams were the only thing that caused him pain.
“I was just trying to figure out why I couldn’t do it,” he said, “and I was just mad because I wanted to so bad.”
Ruggiero put down the knife, cleaned up the kitchen and slept off his anger. Days later, another praise team member, Alyssa Del Angel, called him to ask how he was doing. Ruggiero hung up on her.
Alyssa told her cousin Hector, who proceeded to encourage, preach and push for Ruggiero to listen to Mineo over text message.
“Pray about what you’re going to do, and think about what you’re going to do next! Don’t fly off the handle bars! Whatever you’re thinking, love God, love people and thoroughly hate sin!” Hector said, the last sentence of which he quoted from Mineo’s verse on Derek Minor’s song “In His Image.”
Ruggiero didn’t fly off the handle bars. He surrendered. Laying on his bed, he grabbed his headphones and listened to Heroes for Sale, Mineo’s debut album.
“I don’t know what it was exactly that hit me so hard,” Ruggiero said, “but once I started listening to Andy, I just started crying. I hadn’t had a father, so that song “Bitter,” man, it really gets me. When I did get older, my dad tried fixing stuff with me, but I didn’t want to fix it with him.”
Ruggiero listened to “Bitter,” a song in which Mineo opens up about bitterness toward his father, on repeat for hours.
“‘If I got unforgiveness in my heart, then there really ain’t no room for love’ — that’s what he said in the song and that’s what God implies when he talks about stuff like that,” Ruggiero said. “I was just angry. ‘Man, Andy, you have a good song dude. It gets to me. It shows something that I love, and it shows something what I’m trying to fix. You get me dude. You get me.’”
A track seven songs later on Heroes for Sale made even more of an impact, “Still Bleeding.”
“It wasn’t anything lyrical,” Ruggiero said. “God opened my eyes. It gave me a new hope. It gave me a realization of what I should be doing to get back on track.”
He took a screenshot of the song and text it to Hector: “”Still Bleeding” hitting my heart dude. Feels like it saved my life.”
The following Sunday, Ruggiero attended church for the first time in months. Late to worship, he walked into the sanctuary mid-song.
The praise band was playing “How He Loves.” Ruggiero couldn’t stop crying.
“I stood there crying, thinking about all the wrong that I did,” he said, “and God still loves us. How he loves, it’s crazy.”