Tori Gibson may have had the best seat for the anti-drug parade thatwound its way through the sweltering streets of Annapolis Saturday afternoon. All she had to do was lie in the back of a city truck.
One catch: She was lying in a coffin.
"People were saying, 'You're crazy, I won't do that until I die,'" Gibson said.
But that was the point. The Annapolis woman gave up a vacation to Virginia's Shenandoah National Park to participate inthe parade, saying it was more important to dramatize the potentially fatal consequences of playing with drugs.
"This is to send a message that people who use drugs end up dead," Gibson said. "I think wegot through to people. Either that or I'm crazy."
But not as crazy as some people thought Zastrow Simms was. Simms, the community relations specialist for the Annapolis Housing Authority, followed the coffin dressed in a black tuxedo, complete with top hat and umbrella.
Dancing to New Orleans funeral music -- "When The Saints Come Marching In" -- he provided a spark to the people lining West Street and Spa Road.
"They rejoice when the people are dead and cry when they come into the world," Simms explained. "We're jamming to kill drugs."
And jam they did. Hundreds of parents, politicians, community activists and children turned out in the near 100-degree heat to march three miles from the Stanton Community Center on West Washington Street to Griscom Field on Hilltop Lane.
"The parade was fun," said 9-year-old Rashida Long. "I got a lot of exercise. I never thought walking was this much fun."
"I think it's good that the adults took so much time to help the kids," said Ruthann Thomas, who brought some friends from Millersville to West Street to watch the parade. "It was nice to see them get so many children out."
Sponsored by the Planning Action Committee for Anne Arundel County (PAC), a grass roots organization to combat drug use, the march was part of a day-long rally featuring speeches, awards and music.
Floyd Pond, executive director of the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, presented PAC with a $30,000Please grant, which will be renewed next year for $40,000.
And Pond, on behalf of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, took a moment to honor two young Annapolis residents. Keith Belt and Russell Pinckney were cited for saving the life of Marvin Griffen when the 9-year-old nearly drowned at the opening of the Housing Authority's poollast month.
The music -- featuring marching bands and kids from various city housing projects singing songs -- was a draw, but the anti-drug theme was the real purpose for the parade. In that vein, Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, delivered an optimistic message.
"Iam more convinced than ever that we are going to win this war on drugs," he said during the rally after the parade.
"The summer is almost over. I want to declare a moratorium on death as it relates to drugs in this community. No more funerals because of drugs."
Then, pointing to the by-then empty coffin that sat in front of the audience, George Phelps Jr., founder of a group that offers youth training, urged young listeners to take steps to prevent a premature burial.
"Here lies the coffin," he said. "You saw it. It's no joke. Young people are dying every day."