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On Island Profile: Berle Wallace

Oct. 22, 2006 — Berle Wallace is a man on a campaign to increase drug-abuse awareness on St. Croix. Through an annual Drug Awareness Rally and outreach work, Wallace hopes the message to stay away from drugs will bring hope to a community losing the future earning power of young people.
The drug culture affecting the community is "deplorable," Wallace says. It affects "predominately young black and Hispanic boys," sapping their will to achieve and grow, he says. Wallace owns a landscaping business and often gives young men on the outskirts of society a chance to earn a living.
"They can hardly focus," Wallace says. "I think its a direct result of the marijuana."
Wallace, 51, a native of Dominica, has lived on St. Croix for the past 15 years. He does most of his drug-outreach work through his church, the Central Seventh Day Adventist Church in Grove Place. Wallace serves as personal ministries director and oversees the welfare, health and family life divisions. These divisions help people in "unfortunate situations," Wallace says.
This will be the third year Wallace has organized the Red Ribbon Week Drug Abuse Awareness march. He envisions holding a march in every community on St. Croix, and has organized marches in Grove Place and Sion Farm. This year the Williams Delight Housing Community will host the march on Oct. 29.
"In 10 years we would have been in 10 communities, Wallace says. It will be the norm. The rallies play an important part in the awareness of the community, he says. "I see the drug rally as a way to tell the people there is hope."
Wallace has contemplated why young males in particular get caught up in drugs. He feels the male ego causes young men to seek the approval of their peers, and without strong male role models the boys fall prey to peer pressure.
"Boys are programmed to follow each other, and if they go against the mentality of the group, they can look like a punk in the group's eyes," Wallace says, shaking his head at the dilemma. "The girls escape — go to college and get jobs and sometimes come back home and live with the same boys they left."
A boot camp-type program that would take young men for three or four years and teach them a trade while keeping them off the streets is what St. Croix needs, Wallace says. His dream is to start a program like this on St. Croix and a similar program on Dominica: "There has to be some direct aid to help our young men."
Even though some young men have been involved in antisocial behavior, Wallace says, they still wish to be productive members of society. "You see them working, cutting grass on the side of the road," Wallace muses. "But for some reason they get fired, and they go back to the same old life."
Having a solid family life and growing up in the church does not make a boy immune to problems. Wallace admits that his son, now 23, "had a problem with gangs," and was sent to live with relatives in Dominica. That experience makes Wallace even more empathetic to others. "I wonder about the ones who see a different stepfather every week," he says.
Wallace hopes the community will come out in force to the anti-drug rally, which is a combined effort of several community groups. "We cannot let drug abuse and trafficking take over the community," he says.
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