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PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE: The meaning of Red Ribbon Week

By Pierluigi Mancini

Enrique Camarena never asked to be a hero.

In 1985, when DEA agent Kiki Camarena was murdered by drug dealers in Mexico, they ended his life but not his dream. Here is Kiki's story:

Growing up in a dirt-floored house in Mexico, Enrique Camarena wanted to make a difference. When he was little, he begged his mother for a toy gun. "I need a gun," he said, "because I'm going to be a policeman when I grow up." At 9, Kiki moved with his family to the United States to pick fruit.

After excelling in high school, Kiki faced a critical turning point. His friends were headed for trouble, and he had to decide whether he wanted to follow them into a life of crime and drugs. The deeply engrained desire to make a difference won out, and Kiki opted to stay straight, working his way through college and earning a degree in criminal justice.

Following stints in the Marines and the police force, Kiki joined the DEA. It was the best way he knew to stop drugs and to help people he cared about. His mother, concerned about dangers inherent in his job, tried to talk him out of it. "I can't not do this," he told her. "I'm only one person, but I want to make a difference." In early 1985, the DEA sent Kiki to work undercover in Mexico. For weeks he lived among the drug cartel, gathering information and evidence. He was ready to wrap up his assignment when his identity was discovered. He was kidnapped and tortured to death.

Since its beginning in 1986, the Red Ribbon Celebration has touched the lives of more and more people each year. It all began with the brutal murder of Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, a DEA agent assigned to a case in Mexico. Enrique was shockingly close to uncovering the identities of key members of a Mexican drug cartel. He was kidnapped, brutally tortured and killed just days before he was to identify kingpins of the illegal business in Mexico.

Angered by Kiki's death and the destruction caused by drug and alcohol use in America, the young people of Kiki's hometown in Calexico, Calif., began wearing Red Ribbons in honor of the fallen hero and to show that they would continue his fight against illegal drugs.

Red Ribbon Week takes place Oct. 23-31.

CETPA, Inc. (www.cetpa.org) will join other prevention providers throughout the state in promoting this event. We will have town hall meetings, presentations, and our 2nd Annual Prevention Conference in Spanish on Oct. 26.

Please take this opportunity to speak with your children about the dangers of underage drinking and other drinking behaviors.

Pierluigi Mancini is CEO OF CETPA.

CETPA was established in July 1999 to address the substance abuse counseling needs of the Latino community in Georgia. Since then, CETPA has developed into a full service behavioral health

treatment, intervention and prevention agency, providing services in English and/or Spanish to the Latino community in Georgia.

CETPA is the first, and still only, Latino agency to earn a license by the Georgia Department of Community Health – Healthcare Facility Regulation and the only Latino agency in Georgia to earn national

accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) to provide behavioral health treatment and prevention services in English and/or Spanish.

People Helping People is a publication of the Gwinnett Coalition for Health & Human Services. For more information contact Ellen Gerstein - ellen@gwinnettcoalition.org or at 770-995-3339.