The St. Croix Educational Complex Marching Band came roaring with full force down Palm Drive Monday evening to kick off the University of the Virgin Islands’ Red Ribbon Week to march against drugs and violence in the territory.
Band members and majorettes drummed and danced their way across the street shortly after 6 p.m. to lead the march and rally, which began six years ago on campus in observance of national Red Ribbon Week observed every October.
In 1985, Red Ribbon Week began 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 to work toward drug-free communities.
The UVI Health Services Department coordinates the events throughout the week. Irene Sealey, the administrative assistant for Health Services, is the chair of the Red Ribbon Committee and said she got involved as a way to bring awareness to rising drug use in the territory.
“I realized that we had a serious drug problem in the community, and over time it just keeps getting worse,” Sealey said. “I just want the students to know there are other ways to handle stress and financial difficulties besides using drugs.”
Sealey said that she has learned over the years that when parents are financially strapped, they put the burden on their kids, and oftentimes, it leads to destructive behavior like drug use.
“A lot of times students are unable to cope with the stress – knowing their parents are having a financial hardship – and they turn to drugs, like marijuana or prescription pain medication, to help them cope,” Sealey said. “So we try to teach these kids there are other ways to alleviate those stressors.”
UVI has a counseling placement center and a campus psychologist who often gets involved in helping students with maintaining a drug-free lifestyle.
Maria Friday, who also works at UVI and co-chairs Red Ribbon Week, said that only two things can come from using drugs: jail or death.
“It’s important for them to learn to stay away from drugs because it’s not only going to ruin their minds, bodies and souls, but it will make them lose friends,” Friday said. “Drugs are a problem throughout the entire Virgin Islands – they are everywhere.”
The drum majors from Complex frowned when asked how they felt about drugs. Seniors Jevante Francis,and Jonathan MCGregor both agreed that drugs are bad and that it’s important to maintain a drug-free attitude in high school.
“Drugs have only been used to do bad things, and we like to stress being drug-free,” McGregor said.
Another student who volunteered with the march was 15-year-old Complex student Tiara Decosta, who said she can’t stand drugs.
“A lot of people in high school think it’s cool to do drugs, and it’s really not,” Decosta said. “I just want to show them and set a good example so they don’t do them.”
While only a handful of UVI students actually participated in the march, about 50 showed up to watch and videotape the marching band pull out their cool moves. UVI Sophomore Kenneth Joseph was wearing a bright red shirt to support the drug-free campaign.
“I’m drug free; I feel like it’s just not for me, and I think it’s great that the students are out here to support how much effort they put into keeping the awareness,” Joseph said.
Essie Edwards, the band director for Complex, said they were happy to support such a great cause.
“Since UVI is our neighbor, we thought it would be great to support the cause and bring awareness about staying drug-free,” Edwards said.
After the march, a performance by the UVI Bucs Steppers Dance Squad was held in the Cafetorium, where students were given red bracelets and ribbons to wear for the week.
A Red Ribbon Jeopardy Game will be held Wednesday at noon in the Cafetorium. And Thursday from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., there will be a UVI community outreach to Charles H. Emanuel Elementary School.
Also on Wednesday, St. Thomas will also have a Red Ribbon March where the Charlotte Amalie High School Marching Band will lead the way from Frenchtown to Emancipation Garden at 9 a.m.