By Jason KUROSU
Wednesday marked the kickoff and launch of the International Red Ribbon Movement, a re-branding of the 30-year Red Ribbon campaign to prevent substance abuse in youths.
The CV Alliance hosted the launch Wednesday morning, Oct. 14 at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, though that was only the California kickoff event, as speakers from Arizona, Texas and Florida joined online from their respective events.
Henry Lozano, director for the L.A. County Teen Challenge and Urban Ministries Initiative, former deputy assistant to the President, former director of USA Freedom Corps, and co-founder of the International Red Ribbon Movement, supported “positive prevention” through getting youths to influence youths.
“We now understand today that to do this effectively, we have to engage that threshold of young people, college students, high school students, junior high students, to become the vanguard again,” Lozano said.
Lozano praised the “community engagement” of groups like CV Alliance, saying that sort of involvement was necessary to make a palpable difference in the lives of kids, as opposed to more superficial anti-drug efforts.
“You talk to the kids for one week. You slap a ribbon on their body and call them drug-free. Everyone can understand that that is not the science. The science demands us to engage in community collaboration.”
Daniel Puder, former MMA fighter and WWE star, joined the event from Florida.
Puder is the founder of the My Life, My Power curriculum, a five- day program for K-12 students that Puder said can be implemented by teachers or parents.
“It is not about telling kids ‘don’t do drugs.’ It is not about telling kids ‘no.’ It is about inspiring them to become issue and purpose driven,” Puder said.
The event featured several speakers representing education, law enforcement and the political sphere.
Cecily Myart-Cruz, vice president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said that substance abuse and violence were topics that had to be addressed sooner rather than later.
“It’s not enough to say we can wait for a program, or wait for a whole year to look at and address issues of substance abuse, bullying or gang violence. Our children are facing these issues on a daily basis and educators are dealing with this in their classrooms,” Myart-Cruz said.
Sergeant James Ream of the Los Angeles Police Dept. said that programs such as the International Red Ribbon Movement and My Life, My Power, can help specifically with lowering the dropout rate, which Ream said is directly affected by substance abuse in schools.
“In addition to saving lives, programs like these do a great job of allowing law enforcement and other organizations to start making positive communication and positive connections with students, parents and other people in the community,” said Ream.
Robert W. Clark, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles branch of the FBI, said that kids have to be empowered to “take back control of their lives,” whether that be from drugs, bullying, or any other issues.
“Just say no is not enough. We have to give them something to say yes to,” Clark said. “The International Red Ribbon Movement will actually provide those resources and give them something to say yes to. It will give them a voice. It will allow them to demonstrate that they can think, that they can make good decisions and that they will be able to impact not only our community, but be able to impact other teens.”
CV Alliance had been funded by a Drug Free Communities Grant, part of a federal grant program for groups seeking to reduce drug abuse in their communities.
CV Alliance lost the grant in late September and, though the organization is seeking donations, many CV Alliance members have taken the news as a positive.
“Part of the reason we got turned down for a grant, among other factors, is simply the fact that the use of drugs has gone down,” said CV Alliance President Bill Flanders. “And because of that, the mission said, ‘Well, why are you here?’ And the answer is to keep it down.”