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Red Ribbon Week filled with camaraderie

Led by Ahfachkee School music teacher Jania Harden, students sing and dance to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ during the Big Cypress Red Ribbon Week parade Oct. 20. The theme for this year’s Red Ribbon Week was ‘Respect Yourself, Be Drug Free.’
Led by Ahfachkee School music teacher Jania Harden, students sing and dance to Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ during the Big Cypress Red Ribbon Week parade Oct. 20. The theme for this year’s Red Ribbon Week was ‘Respect Yourself, Be Drug Free.’

Across reservations, in keeping with the Red Ribbon mission, communities gathered to present a unified and visible commitment to a drug-free future.

From color runs, poster contests, marches against drugs, pledges and promises, the Seminole Tribe stood strong against drugs and celebrated the week’s theme, “Respect Yourself, Be Drug Free.”

The Red Ribbon campaign and the tradition of displaying Red Ribbons as a symbol of intolerance of drug use began in 1985 after the killing of DEA agent Enrique (Kiki) Camarena in Mexico. The agent was kidnapped and murdered by drug dealers angered by information provided by Camarena that led to a Mexican army-led destruction of a 2,500-acre marijuana plantation.

To commemorate Camarena’s battle against illegal drugs, family and friends began wearing badges of red silk, which later became ribbons. In 1988, the National Family Partnership held the first Red Ribbon Celebration.

Since then, Red Ribbon Week has been commemorated in schools and communities nationwide.

In Fort Pierce, activities began Oct. 9 after the message was conveyed loud and clear.

“This is to remind us to be aware of how drugs can hurt people,” said Valerie Marone, Center for Behavior Health prevention specialist. “If someone asks you if you want alcohol or drugs, I want you to stand tall and say no.”

Youth and adults enjoyed an evening of food, fellowship, karaoke and wearing silly accessories for portraits in a photo booth.

On Oct. 26 in Hollywood, preschoolers presented seniors with plants in decorated pots to symbolize their promise to remain drug free for life. The kids also sang and recited the pledge of allegiance in Mikasuki.

Afterward, children, teachers and parents marched through the reservation to show their Red Ribbon resolve.

On Oct. 27, the empty landscape of Seminole Estates in Hollywood was transformed with color. Participants of the third annual Red Ribbon 5K Color Run began with clean, white palettes and ended with color-laden T-shirts and plenty of laughs along the way to the finish line.

About 75 community members, ran, walked and wheeled through a gauntlet of bucket-wielding employees tossing handfuls of colorful powder on them. But first, Fire Rescue doused participants with water to make sure the color stuck.

The Hollywood community participated in additional Red Ribbon events that included a youth basketball tournament and talent show at the airnasium.

A parade Oct. 20 sent Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School staff, teachers and students, plus dozens of tribal department employees, police and firefighters, to the street for a march against substance abuse. The fun continued the next day with a preschool Red Ribbon Get Fit event and Color Run much like the event in Hollywood.

A family poster contest, door decorating contest and community dinner rounded out Brighton Red Ribbon Week Oct. 19-22.

Immokalee Red Ribbon kicked off Oct. 19 with a “Take the Pledge” Color Run hosted by the Health Department. Youth teamed up in the Wipeout Challenge obstacle course, hosted by the Recreation Department and Council Office. A prayer walk through the reservation followed by dinner completed events in Immokalee.

In Big Cypress, Ahfachkee School students lined Josie Billie Highway to cheer on a parade of passing floats and vehicles that featured dozens of tribal leaders, department employees, children and teens decked in creative costumes to herald drug- and alcohol-free lives.

Big Cypress Councilman Cicero Osceola and his support team donned military fatigues and squirt guns to combat substance abuse. On the Recreation float, Big Cypress kids dressed like bananas, grapes, apples and other fruits to support healthy eating for fruitful living. Ahfachkee School’s float sounded the Aretha Franklin song “Respect” while students dressed like 1960s hippies lip-synched and danced.

The Ahfachkee School float won first place in the reservation’s Red Ribbon event best float contest.

President Mitchell Cypress, who candidly discussed his battle against alcohol in a 2013 Seminole Tribune article, told an audience at the award presentation to, “Just say no.”

“We have a long way to go in this fight, but it’s more than wearing red shirts and being in a parade. Drugging affects everyone and we, as role models, have to be the example. If we do it, others will. If we don’t do it, they won’t,” President Cypress said.

Billie Cypress, who performed on the award-winning float, said children and teenagers should think about their families if they are tempted to take drugs or drink.

“Kids have to remember that drugs get you nowhere,” Billie Cypress said.

Red Ribbon events tribalwide concluded Oct. 24 in Clewiston with the sixth annual Red Ribbon Benefit Golf Classic tournament hosted by Seminoles in Recovery to raise funds for the 2015 Florida Native American Recovery Convention.

Staff reporter Eileen Soler contributed to this report.

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