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Love yourself. Be drug free

BC Red Ribbon11Every year, Red Ribbon Week raises awareness about the negative effect drugs have on communities. The campaign and the tradition of displaying red ribbons as a symbol of intolerance of drug use began in 1985 after the murder of a DEA agent in Mexico City. Since then, the week has been commemorated in schools and communities nationwide.

With that in mind, Tribal members on every reservation came out for fellowship, food and fun served up with a serious message on the side.

The Fort Pierce community gathered Oct. 10 at the Chupco Youth Ranch for a Red Ribbon celebration. Guest speaker Lewis Gopher, of Brighton, spoke about life choices and their consequences. He admitted to taking some wrong turns in his life but said he didn’t realize it at the time.

“It came on real slow,” he said. “I tried to take everything on by myself and couldn’t handle it. I drank, did drugs and got in trouble with the authorities and my family. It turned me into a person I didn’t want to be. It made me lose my family and my children; I traded them for drugs and alcohol.”

After “hitting a brick wall,” Gopher turned his life around. He finally listened to his family, but hearing what they had to say wasn’t easy for him. He stopped his bad behavior and, with the help of God, began to take care of himself, he said.

“If you ain’t living right, you become the enemy of yourself,” he said. “My kids came back and I am able to be the father I wanted to be and the person I want to be.”

Gopher talked about the importance of community and how it keeps Seminoles unified and strong.

“This community can make a big difference in these kids’ lives,” he said. “We all want to have good lives and be the person our mother and grandmother would like us to be. But we need to help each other out. That’s how we’re still here today because of the unity we’ve always had.”

After listening to Gopher’s strong message, children enjoyed a poster contest, games, pumpkin decorating and bounce house and slide.

“Red Ribbon is a way for our communities to help keep drugs out and everyone healthy, safe and happy,” said Valerie Marone, Family Services Department prevention specialist. “It isn’t just for a week, but for a life.”

The Big Cypress community embraced the Red Ribbon spirit by participating in a week of fun-filled activities Oct. 13-16. Festivities culminated with the ever-popular parade and 5K color run.

About 25 floats, trucks, ATVs, convertibles and horses paraded from the parking lot at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum down Josie Billie Highway to the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena grounds Oct. 16. Tribal members, employees and Ahfachkee School students lined the parade route and gladly gathered treats tossed their way.

Winners of the best decorated float and door were announced and congratulated at a community luncheon after the parade. The winners for the best float were the Housing Department in first, Recreation in second and Rodeo in third. Door contest first, second and third place winners were Culture, Elders and Ahfachkee, respectively.

Ahfachkee essay winners were Michaela Cypress, first place; Alex Garcia, second; and Troy Cantu, third. Poster winners were Sarah Robbins, first place; Janah Cypress, second place; and Tommi Stockton, third place.

In Brighton, a downpour didn’t dampen the spirits of nearly 300 people who showed up for the Red Ribbon march Oct. 21. The event, which has been held for more than 10 years, is popular with all segments of the community.

“We march rain or shine,” Marone said.

The entire Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School student body – 266 students strong – and faculty joined the preschool and community members on the annual trek through the reservation. Road construction and newly laid asphalt was an obstacle along the route but was overcome easily. Construction was halted for a few minutes while the group walked by the momentarily idled workers.

“This is to raise awareness of substances in our community,” said Helene Buster, director of Family Services. “We provide the education for children about prevention.”

Other events during Brighton’s Red Ribbon Week Oct. 20-23 included a family poster contest, door decorating competition, 5K color run and S.W.A.M.P. community campaign at PECS.

The cleared grounds of Seminole Estates provided an ideal course for Hollywood’s Red Ribbon prevention color run Oct. 21. Kids and adults participated in the event, which featured stations manned by volunteers eager to douse walkers and runners with vibrantly colored flour in shades of pink, red, yellow, green and turquoise.

The splotches of color were a reward for making it through the course. Participants proudly showed their colors at the end of the event sponsored by the Health Department.

The community also participated in other Red Ribbon events from Oct. 20-24, including a poster contest, plant a promise at the Senior Center, march on the Ball Field, youth basketball tournament and talent show at the airnasium.

Red Ribbon Week in Immokalee began with community members taking a drug-free pledge Oct. 20 and ended with the Seminoles in Recovery Red Ribbon Golf Classic in Clewiston Oct. 25.

In between, kids and adults had a blast getting beaned with color at the color run and cookout. Immokalee youth also teamed up and competed in the wipeout challenge obstacle course. Challenges included a mud obstacle course, tires, bounce house climb and slide, hay stacks, balance beam and walls to climb over.

The community enjoyed a spirit night, prayer walk and community dinner Oct. 22 hosted by the First Seminole Baptist Church.

The Tampa Reservation took to the bowling lanes to celebrate Red Ribbon Week. Community members gathered at Oakfield Lanes in Brandon Oct. 18 for good-hearted competition. The day also featured speakers and a family poster contest, which was won by McKenna Smith, 9, and Mason Foret, 15.

Tribalwide, reservations took a visible stand against substance abuse and paid homage to this year’s Red Ribbon theme, “Love Yourself. Be Drug Free.”


Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at