A small but enthusiastic group of St. Croix University of the Virgin Islands students and residents marched from the university kiosk to the cafetorium Tuesday evening, as part of a rally kicking off the annual Red Ribbon Week.
Red Ribbon Week is observed every October. It began in 1985 as a tribute to Drug Enforcement Agency Special Agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, who was murdered by drug traffickers in Mexico City. Sponsored by the DEA, participants encourage people to display red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance toward drug use and work to promote drug-free communities. Since then, its focus has broadened to include alcohol, tobacco and violence.
The St. Croix Educational Complex Drum Corp set the mood and the beat as a few dozen young women and a few men marched down the campus’ palm-lined drive just after sunset.
The band members all volunteered to come lead the march, after getting word of the event earlier that day, said band director Kevre Hendricks.
Most of the marchers wore red T-shirts and many held signs with the slogan "The Best Me is Drug Free," as well as other anti-drug, alcohol and violence slogans.
"We are out here to help get out the message and let everyone know drugs aren't good and we need to be drug free," said Lily, a young college student decked out in red, who only gave her first name. "The best me is drug free," she said, holding a sign saying the same thing.
"We are just here with the family for a good cause and to support the drug free message," said Melissa Parks, there with her two toddlers, Brady and Chase, who were both bedecked with red ribbons and signs.
After the march, outside the university's cafetorium, volunteers asked the young men and women if they would like to sign a pledge swearing to stay drug free. Before the event ended, they had several pages of signatures. There will be more pledge signings across St. Croix over the week.
The week of events was coordinated by volunteers with UVI's Alcohol and Drug Prevention Committee, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and other local partners.
"This is very important to a lot of people and to me, personally, because many of us, myself included, have lost family and friends to alcohol and drugs," said Irene Hatchett-Sealey, co-chairwoman of the Alcohol and Drug Prevention Committee, after the march and before a short presentation in the school's cafetorium by DEA Special Agent Timothy Williams.
"It is not only about drugs, it is about alcohol and about the violence these problems bring," Williams said during his presentation. "How many of you know someone or know someone who knows someone who has been killed in the last year?" he asked the 20 or so mostly women who stayed after the march for the presentation. Nearly half of them raised their hands.
"If you know someone who has a problem, take a minute and talk to them. You may save their life," Williams said.
The St. Thomas campus will hold its march Thursday evening and schools on both islands will be commemorating the week and its message with a slew of activities.
St. Croix will have a mini Drug Awareness Rally at Lew Muckle Elementary School on Wednesday and an Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Band Against Drug Day activity on Oct. 30. Some 600 students from St. Croix junior high schools are being invited. The event is sponsored by the DEA, the National Guard and a wide variety of local and regional agencies.
The complete Red Ribbon Week schedule is below. Everyone is encouraged to wear red at all the events.
- Wednesday – drug awareness rally at Lew Muckle Elementary School;
- Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. – pledge tables, raffle tickets and information in the cafetorium;
- Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. – raffle tickets, pledge tables and information; and from 11:40 a.m. to 12:40 p.m. – drug-free bingo;
- Oct. 30, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. – Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Band Against Drug Day at UVI campus;
- Oct. 31 – Jeopardy game in the cafetorium, raffle drawing.
- Thursday – drug free area decoration contests; university offices and organizations are encouraged to participate. Groups must register with the dean of students at the Student Affairs Office. Judging will take place at 10 a.m.;
- Thursday , walk/rally and speak-out - at 5 p.m. Concludes at UVI Recreation Center;
- Friday, karaoke in the dining pavilion from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.