Former First Lady Nancy Reagan told America to say no to drugs. Houston police Officer Michael W. Jones has a follow up: say yes to education.
"Just say no to drugs -- that ain't enough," said Officer Jones, 35, a pilot in Houston's helicopter division. "Just say yes to education. Knowledge is power. You got the power. You get paid."
Officer Jones took this message to about 1,700 students at Meade Senior High School yesterday. Tomorrow he'll speak at MacArthur Middle School and at Van Bokkelen Elementary on Friday.
He is founder of "Soul Patrol," a Houston group that tours the country telling youngsters to give up drugs, apathy and violence.
His appearance at Meade High School came a year after a melee at the school ended with 17 students suspended for fighting and a school librarian seriously injured. Six students were charged in the brawl. In February and March, a judge found five youths guilty, committing them indefinitely to juvenile detention centers.
Officer Jones, an imposing figure in his black jumper suit, practiced what he preached yesterday, offering $5, $20 or $50 bills to students who could answer his trivia questions. Seven students were selected and asked questions ranging from spelling "participate," naming the year the Declaration of Independence was signed and defining AIDS.
Only three people walked away with money. One picked up $25 for giving the year of the Declaration's signing, while two cousins split $5 for correctly spelling the name of the 11th president, James K. Polk.
"You must get serious now," Officer Jones boomed into the microphone. "It has nothing to do with your age. It's your attitude."
Officer Jones started his motivational program five years ago. He'd grown tired of hearing America's youth dubbed the "lost generation" and decided to speak at middle and high schools in Houston. A couple of other officers and friends joined him, forming the nucleus of what became known as the "Soul Patrol." Officer Jones picked up the nickname when he became one of the country's first black helicopter police pilots.
"Soul Patrol" went national two years ago with the help of the Exchange Club, a national community service organization. Last year, the speakers spent a week in more than 20 cities.
Officer Jones ended his 45-minute talk with messages about racism and teen-age pregnancy.
"It does not make you a man to make a baby," he said, as women cheered. "You become a man when you accept the responsibility to be a father. Ladies, ladies, there are two sides to the coin. Young ladies have got to have something to hold, something to call their own. Young ladies, Soul Patrol says why don't you go to Wal-Mart and get yourself a Cabbage Patch Doll?"
Afterward, students praised Officer Jones for talking to them and not lecturing to them.
"It was very educational -- at our level," said Tiffany Rowan, a 10th-grader. "He made it so people were listening to him."