Two-year-old Maurice had his own reserved seat yesterday on the shoulders of his father, Steve Womach, and a "Say No to Drugs" balloon in his hand.
While Maurice surveyed the crowd of several hundred people and a band played on a makeshift stage behind Birney Elementary School in Southeast Washington, Womach talked about the importance of the antidrug message being conveyed as well as his skepticism about the community's determination to stop drug trafficking.
"Every parent should want to tell their kids to say 'no' to drugs. But every parent should set an example," said Womach, a construction worker who lives in the District.
Womach pointed to a man on the stage who was involved with the band and said he had seen him get high on "love boat," or PCP.
"But then they get up there and say not to do it," Womach said, shaking his head. "You can say all you want; it's the example you set."
D.C. City Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), city drug administration official Lonnie Mitchell and a number of others urged young people to stay away from drugs during the afternoon festival. The event was organized by Unfoldment Inc., a drug prevention group that works with school-aged children.
A talent contest and bands drew a large number of teen-agers in addition to many small children accompanied by their parents.
Rolark, who represents the area targeted for the festival, said the school system is now recognizing that it has to begin educating children to the dangers of drugs as early as possible.
"You just can't stay blind to the fact that it the drug problem is there," she said.
Elizabeth Mackall said she lives in the area and that drugs are sold openly there. "You can be riding down the street and they will come up to your car," she said. "I get embarrassed by the pushers if somebody from work brings me home."
Sumner Road, on which Birney Elementary is located, is known in the area as "the strip," Mackall said, and children know they can get all kinds of drugs there.
Mackall said she was frank in talking with her children, ages 23, 20 and 16, about drugs, and that her brother, who struggled successfully to end his addiction, made a big impression on them.
Some teen-agers at the festival said they came just to hear the bands or to check out the scene, but others said they were serious about the antidrug effort in their schools.
"I want to help people stop using drugs," said Ericka Pair, an 11th grader at Anacostia High School. "I have a lot of friends who use drugs. I tell them they are ruining their lives . . . that they may wind up in the hospital or dead."