Faces of Pigtown students promote worldwide campaign Youths appear in posters for anti-terrorism effort

October 06, 1995|By ERIC SIEGEL | ERIC SIEGEL,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's newest poster children aren't looking for money or sympathy. All they want is information.

The children, current and former students of Charles Carroll, Barrister, Elementary School in southwest Baltimore's Pigtown, are featured in a pair of posters being distributed worldwide by the U.S. Department of State in an effort to halt illegal smuggling of nuclear materials and drugs.

One poster, aimed at getting citizens of foreign countries to turn in traffickers of nuclear materials, shows eight cherubic faces superimposed on a photograph of a mushroom cloud; the second, aimed at fighting big-time drug dealers, shows a handful of forlorn-looking children behind a chain-link fence.

"The first one that we did -- I got to be honest -- I did it for the money," said 11-year-old Roberto Mancha, who appears in both posters and, like the other kids, got $95 for each photo shoot. "But at that time, I didn't know it was going all around the world."

"It's hard to believe people are shooting up," he added. "Why would somebody stick a needle in their arm? But you see syringes all around the streets. Drugs and all are really serious. Nuclear bombing is serious, too."

With the posters, the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service is broadening its anti-terrorism efforts to include nuclear weapons and drug smuggling. Since 1988, the U.S. government has paid $3 million in reward money in 20 separate cases of terrorist attacks, according to Michael G. Parks, supervisory special agent in charge of the program.

The State Department wanted to use "real kids" to illustrate what it considered to be the ultimate victims of these illegal activities.

Mr. Parks made his desire known to George Hughes, president of Geo. W. King Co., a Pigtown printing and design company, which since 1989 had been producing the State Department's anti-terrorist publicity materials.

Mr. Hughes knew just who to contact. He called Billie J. Rinaldi, principal of Charles Carroll, whom he knew from meetings about the city's federal empowerment zone, which is in an area that includes both his business and her school.

"He said, 'Did I think I had children who could fairly represent the world community?' I said, 'Absolutely,' " recalled Ms. Rinaldi.

Indeed, the school's student body is about 45 percent white and 30 percent African-American, with the remainder split among Asian-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, she said.

The students who were photographed -- including five who now attend Diggs Johnson and Francis Scott Key middle schools -- were selected from class pictures.

Today, Mr. Parks will present certificates to those "real kids" to thank them for participating.

Last week, the students gathered to talk, often shyly, about the experience. Katherine Backoff, 10, and Yen Nugyen, 9, hold small bouquets of sunflowers in the nuclear smuggling poster.

"I hope it'll stop a lot of people from building bombs," said Katherine, who is in 5th grade.

B6 "It makes you feel good," added Yen, a 4th-grader.

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