Charmaine Van Dyke, 15, listened yesterday as Jesse L. Jackson urged his audience of young people: "You must make the judgment no one can make for you. Put the guns down! Stop the flow of drugs!"
In the D.C. Armory, among thousands of students from throughout the District, she listened as James Bias, father of two dead sons, warned: "We can't consume our way to equality. The only way we can find equality . . . is with education. Gold chains, tennis shoes, BMWs, guns, fancy coats -- none of that's going to get you anywhere. We read every day about young people lying in pools of blood because they were pursuing these things."
And afterward, when the I Have A Dream Foundation's Pro-Literacy/Anti-Violence Youth Rally had ended, and an estimated 7,000 children and teenagers were pouring through the armory doors -- laughing, jostling, dancing -- Charmaine Van Dyke watched them a moment, then shrugged.
"For some of these people here, I think it did some good," she said of the two-hour program of speeches, dance and song.
In a city where young people meet violent death with uncommon frequency, organizers hoped students would carry the rally's message back to their schools. "But for some of them, they're already selling drugs," said Charmaine, who attends Hine Junior High School on Capitol Hill. "They have their minds made up, what they're going to do for quick money and fancy clothes."
With speakers including Bullets Coach Wes Unseld, D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson (D) and a pair of stars from NBC-TV's "The Cosby Show," the program was intended to make students "listen and learn," said Marilyn Crawford, the foundation's executive director.
"We hope you leave here with a message of substance that you can take back to your community," Crawford told the youngsters, who showed a range of expressions, some intently interested and others bored. "We want you to go back to your schools, your homes, your churches, and say enough is enough."
Later, outside, Damon Knight, 15, from Langley Junior High School in the Eckington neighborhood in Northeast, said he found the program "all right, I guess. But it wasn't what I expected. I thought there was going to be more dancing and stuff."
He shrugged and added, "Some people it'll help, some it won't. You know, people are going to do what they're going to do."
Yet many students and teachers called the rally helpful, even inspiring, and said more ought to be planned. "You bring all these kids together and they can talk to each other," said D. Edward Branch, 14, from Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown. "They can see how other people their age are doing, and see that they can get along all right too, if they try."
As Erika Alexander, of "The Cosby Show," told them: "Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed of the day when all men, both black and white, would be judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin. But in order to see that dream fulfilled, we have to hang around long enough to make sure it's done, all right? This violence against one another has got to stop."