The school that Adam Jeffery, 13, attends is a stone's throw away from the street corner and the house where two men, both under 30, died of heroin overdoses last weekend. For Jeffery and his classmates at McGogney Elementary School in far Southeast, drug abuse and death are not new.
Drug dealers sometimes taunt Jeffery by challenging him to use drugs as a way of proving how tough he is, he said. "When I'm playing on the playground, they come around and say, 'Hey, Shorty, come over here and get a little puff of this [marijuana] cigarette.' I'm afraid of them. Sometimes I run home to get away from them."
Yesterday, Maurice Holmes, a children's book author and civic activist, went to McGogney and used magic tricks to show about 400 fifth- and sixth-graders that "no drugs are cool."
Life is like a balloon, Holmes told the youngsters, holding a balloon in his right hand and a needle in the other. "If you stick a needle through it -- as some people do by injecting drugs into their bodies -- you can pop."
While sliding his hands alternately over a long handkerchief as it appeared to change colors, Holmes warned the students, "This is what can happen to you when you use drugs. Things will not be as they seem. You'll have illusions. And you can't live like that."
Holmes led the students in a chant: "No drugs, no drugs, no drugs are cool. Any user you know is just a fool . . . . Leave drugs alone and stay in school."
"These kids are the children of America," Holmes said in an interview. "Many of them are in danger of being lost and in limbo through the use of drugs. Where they end up will have to be determined by all of us who reach out our hands and say, 'Hey, I'm here to help you.' "
The United Planning Organization, an antipoverty agency founded in the early 1960s, sponsored Holmes' visit to the school, which is at Wheeler Road and Mississippi Avenue SE.
The event was part of an effort by school administrators to respond to the growing need to inform youngsters about drugs.
"Quite a few of the students knew about the heroin overdoses last weekend, and they are exposed to drugs on a regular basis," said Verdell Thompson, a counselor at the school. "With events like this, we want to help children realize that drugs are bad."
After the students listened to Holmes' advice and watched his magic tricks, some returned to classes where they discussed what they had learned. In Roslyn Brown's fifth-grade class, students said they believed people use drugs and alcohol to "have fun," to "get things off of their minds" and to "be cool."
They all agreed that drugs are harmful.
One of Adam Jeffery's classmates, 13, said she tried smoking marijuana recently and also has "snuck a drink of wine and beer" on occasion. "After I smoked the joint, I just went to sleep. But I won't do it again because I know it's bad for your body and your mind. It makes you dumb," said the sixth-grader.
Robert Mebane, a physical education teacher who talks to students regularly about drugs, said in an interview, "One child said today that marijuana is a helpful drug because his mother uses it to help her asthma. The only thing I could come up with is that he caught her smoking once and she told him that . . . . That's the kind of situation we are up against."