Pierson Middle-High School students tied red ribbons throughout the village of Sag Harbor last week, including on benches in the park and on stop signs on Main Street, to raise awareness of drug and alcohol abuse and to demonstrate their commitment to leading healthy lifestyles.
From Friday, October 25, to Friday, November 1, the students took part in Red Ribbon Week, a national event started in 1988 following the violent murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camerena, who was tortured and killed in Mexico in 1985.
On Thursday, October 31, the middle school students packed the school’s library, ready to take on trivia questions about drugs, alcohol and core values. To engage the students and make it fun, each class was dressed in a different color. They called it “color wars,” and the winning team would enjoy a pizza party.
“It’s to raise awareness about drugs and alcohol,” Jackson Marienfeld, a seventh and an eighth grade teacher at Pierson, explained as he watched the students excitedly answer trivia questions on the library’s Smartboard. “It’s to honor Kiki. He was killed by drug traffickers. Red Ribbon Week was set up to raise awareness to his situation and the negative effects of drugs.”
Mr. Marienfeld said that, throughout the week, students had been pulled out of class to attend assemblies about anti-bullying, drug awareness, and leading happy, healthy lifestyles.
In their individual classes they’ve been going over issues related to drugs and alcohol, and during lunch, all of the classes get together and take part in team building activities.
Mr. Marienfeld graduated from Pierson in 2013, and fondly remembered being a part of Red Ribbon Week as a student there. “They enjoy it,” he said of the students. “It provides a fun and safe atmosphere for them to learn about this stuff.”
Middle schoolers Luke Seltzer and Daisy Ronoso were dressed in all blue on Thursday for color wars.
“It’s a fun activity,” Luke said, adding that the week is about staying drug free and making healthy choices.
On Monday, the students dressed in pajamas, and on Tuesday, they dressed for success, Daisy said. On Wednesday, the students dressed for their future careers.
Both Luke and Daisy said one guest speaker came in to lecture about her past experiences with drugs and how she went down the wrong path and worked hard to become clean.
Down the hall from the library, in the gym, other middle schoolers were completing obstacle courses as a team.
“It’s a spirit week, and it’s supposed to draw attention to healthy habits and being drug and alcohol free,” sixth grade teacher Eileen Caulfield said. Each day of the week, a guest speaker comes in. Organización Latino-Americana, a nonprofit agency committed to promoting social, economic, cultural, and educational development within the Latino and Hispanic communities, lectured about bullying and other issues, as did HUGS, which lectured about youth development and learning leadership skills.
In addition, the students decorate their classroom doors with anti-drug information.
Mr. Camerena’s family had tried to talk him out of being a DEA agent due to the dangerous nature of the job. On February 7, 1985, at 37 years old, Mr. Camarena left his office to meet his wife for lunch. Five men appeared at the agent’s side and shoved him in a car.
One month later, Mr. Camarena’s body was found. He had been tortured to death.
In response to Mr. Camarena’s murder, angered parents and students in communities across the country began wearing red ribbons as a symbol of their commitment to raise awareness of the killing and destruction caused by drugs in America and to honor Mr. Camarena’s battle against illegal drugs. He was committed to ending the drug cartels. His motto was: “I’m only one person, but I want to make a difference.”
Parents across America had begun forming coalitions adopting the symbol of Mr. Camarena’s memory, a satin red ribbon.
National Family Partnership, formerly the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth, was established as a grassroots, nonprofit organization in 1980, and in 1988, sponsored the first National Red Ribbon Celebration.
Decades later, Red Ribbon Week serves to mobilize communities to educate children and encourage participation in drug prevention activities.
“Kiki’s community rallied together. It spread nationwide,” Ms. Caulfield said, adding that every morning, the administrators give drug facts and positive quotes over the announcements.
“The kids love it. They tie red ribbons all around the village. They even did a public service announcement on the radio,” she said.