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CLC hosts annual Red Ribbon Rally

Margie Quinn (left) from Miguel Juarez Middle School Waukegan leads students reading pledge stay drug-free during 25th annual Lake County

Margie Quinn (left) from Miguel Juarez Middle School in Waukegan leads students in reading a pledge to stay drug-free during the 25th annual Lake County Red Ribbon Rally at the College of Lake County on Tuesday, Oct. 29.| Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 29, 2013 2:13AM

Performances by cheerleaders, band members and drill teams from Warren Township High School were not just used to entertain participants at the 25th annual Lake County Red Ribbon Rally on Tuesday, but to make a point.

“You get damaged by alcohol or drugs or violence,” Lake County Circuit Judge Diane Winter told the gathering at the College of Lake County’s Physical Education Building. “So if you think for a minute you could perform in a band like this or wave those flags or the other color guard activities if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol — you couldn’t.

“You couldn’t enjoy your activities as a high-schooler or grade-schooler,” Winter added, “so that’s why we bring this program to you so you can understand the possibilities and the great achievements that are still out there for you.”

Middle-school students from Fox Lake to Waukegan came in for the 90-minute presentation, which was part of the nationwide commemoration of Red Ribbon Week. Held each October since 1988, the week honors the life of Drug Enforcement Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who was murdered by drug traffickers in 1985.

Lake County Associate Judge Veronica O’Malley gave the students a brief history lesson on Camarena’s legacy, telling them that “he never asked to be a hero, (but) believed that one person can make a difference.”

“After high school, (he) faced a critical turning point in his life — a point that many of you are facing right now or will face in the near future,” O’Malley said. “And that is, do you follow some of your friends into a life of crime and drugs or do you opt to stay straight?

“Well, he opted to stay straight,” she added. “He allowed his deeply ingrained desire to make a difference win out. He worked his way through college and earned a degree in criminal justice.”

On the local criminal-justice front, Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Nerheim said his office deals with the negative results of drug use on a regular basis.

“The vast majority of what we handle is drug cases, or cases that are related to drugs,” Nerheim said, giving an example of “people breaking into your parents’ cars or their houses to take money so they can buy drugs.”

“If we can eliminate drugs, we can eliminate just about every type of crime there is — think about that,” Nerheim added. “I heard a study that said we spend $600 billion a year on drug treatment. Billion with a ‘B.’ Now imagine if we had $600 billion for schools, for your after-school programs, for your band programs. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

Nerheim told students they can help eliminate the demand that requires a supply of illegal drugs with their own choices, and Winter added they also can make a difference outside of their own lives.

“If you’re aware of a friend deciding to try drugs or alcohol, help someone. You’re not being a friend unless you do,” said Winter, pointing to examples of teens who struggled with addiction and saying “if one of their friends had told a parent or a teacher or a school nurse or a band director, perhaps those choices could have been turned around and the damage been avoided.”

Winter added that “it’s not snitching — you’re being a good friend. They might not see it that way at first, but when you’re older, they’ll understand that you were trying to help.”

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