High school students march to make a difference Chilly weather doesn't stop anti-drug protest

November 20, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Dr. Norman A. Handy Sr., city councilman from Southwest Baltimore's 6th District, said his barber does business near the Francis M. Wood Alternative High School at Calhoun and Fayette streets.

So he knows how far the walk to City Hall was for a group of students who marched through downtown in chilly weather yesterday to protest drugs and violence.

After talking to the group of 38 students at City Hall, he said he was impressed by the effort of Students Helping Other People (SHOP).

"To organize this and put it together, and to be here is significant in terms of the challenges they face in other areas of life," Handy said. "It certainly put Francis M. Wood on the map. There are certain people who are now better informed about Francis M. Wood. I'm proud that they're in my district."

The march left the school around 9 a.m., with the students holding signs urging a drug- and violence-free life full of love. Some onlookers gave blank stares, others gave quizzical looks and still others urged the marchers on.

After walking more than a mile and a half, the students were greeted at City Hall by representatives of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, along with Handy.

The students were prepared to make only a small splash with their protest when they planned it early last month. They had no bone to pick with the city govern- ment. They had no galvanizing outrage, such as the killing of a student or an overdose, as often is the impetus for such an event.

But for these youngsters -- many of them branded with the "problem child" label that put them at the school for attendance or behavioral problems -- the march was a chance to add an achievement to their records.

"This is a big deal because we don't do a lot of things," said Vernetta Chapman, one of the faculty advisers for the group, along with Col. Rodney Douglass and Betty George. "Most students come in with a laid-back attitude. You hope to take something small and build an interest."

"A lot of people think that we don't know anything and aren't worth anything," said Nancy Lyles, 17, a student at the school. "It showed that we aren't about drugs and drinking, that we do have something going on."

At the same time, some of the students, including Lyles, know people who have used drugs and have been victims of drug-related violence. While the march gave a sense of achievement, it was also an opportunity for the students to show that some youths oppose drugs and violence.

"Some of my friends are on drugs and things," said Lyles. "I'd been helping people before I'd recognized SHOP, so I looked to this as a way of continuing that."

Pub Date: 11/20/97

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