Red ribbons have reason

Published 8:03 am Thursday, October 29, 2009

By Staff
Monica Shockley
SWAMH Prevention Coordinator
Every year America’s schools celebrate Red Ribbon Week.  The students understand that this week brings awareness to the issues of drug abuse, but not many know the story behind the red ribbons.  Here is that story:
Special Agent “Kiki” Camarena was born on July 26, 1947. He was a Mexican immigrant to California.  Kiki, as he was called by his friends, graduated from high school and then joined the Marine Corps.  After he was discharged, Kiki worked as a fireman, a police investigator and a narcotics investigator in California.  He became a Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1974 because of his concern about the growing drug problem in the U.S.  In July of 1981, Kiki was assigned to a DEA office in Mexico.  His mission was to find those who were dealing in illegal substances and help stop the drug trade across the Mexican border into the United States and he had discovered leads about a multi-billion dollar drug pipeline.
On Feb. 7, 1985, Kiki was on his way to meet his wife for lunch when he was kidnapped in broad daylight, then brutally tortured and murdered.   His body was not found until March 5, 1985.  Many major organized crime figures from Mexico were arrested for his torture and murder.  In reflection of his life and his work, his family remembers a statement that he made, “Even if I’m only one person, I can make a difference.” He proved this to be true in his life and in his death.
Not long after Kiki’s death, a congressman and a high school friend established a club in Kiki’s hometown where the members promised to lead a drug free life and wore a red ribbon to honor those who have been lost in the war against drugs. This program gained popularity and in 1988, the grass roots campaign went national with President Ronald Reagan and Fist Lady Nancy Reagan serving as honorary chairpersons.  Since then, the Red Ribbon campaign has grown and is now celebrated in most American Schools.  Each year students place the red ribbons on their shirts and wear them proudly. When you see that ribbon, ask if they know Kiki’s story and the reason they are wearing the red ribbon. Like Kiki, remember that even though you are only one person you can make a difference.  This Red Ribbon Week, remember Special Agent “Kiki” Camarena, and how he gave his life for the cause of substance abuse prevention. 
Monica Shockley serves as the prevention coordinator at Southwest Alabama Mental Health Board.