ELYRIA — Elyria High School senior Monica Backs proudly proclaimed Thursday that she doesn’t need illegal and intoxicating substances to have fun.
She wasn’t alone.
Roughly 600 Lorain County teens rallied at Elyria High School before marching to the old Lorain County Courthouse on Ely Square for a “We Are the Majority” rally, which spotlighted the sober teens in the county.
“Everything you think you know about teenagers is probably wrong,” she said.
The Elyria High School Pioneer Marching Band led the way and students held signs declaring their sobriety.
“I am not a statistic,” “Think Don’t Drink” and “What is your natural high” written in colorful ink on poster boards got the message out.
Darrell Shumpert, coordinator of the Teen Institute of Lorain County, said the rally was a smaller version of one held in Columbus. About 80 Lorain County youths participated in last year’s rally in the state capital hosted by Drug Free Action Alliance. They marched to the Statehouse, taking their message straight to lawmakers.
After their return, local youths decided to bring the concept to Lorain County and Thursday’s rally in Elyria marked the first time in the state a rally was held simultaneously with the one in Columbus, according to Shumpert.
“This was all them,” he said as he looked over the energetic gathering of hundreds. “They owned this rally because this is their community and the kids they are talking to are their peers.”
The rally was not just an excuse to leave school.
Joel Reichlin, associate director of education and prevention for Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services, which handles programming for 30 schools across the county, said he is personally working with seven teenagers who are addicted to heroin.
“Youths are doing drugs now that they have never used at that level before,” he said. “Heroin and opiates have become the go-to party drugs to dangerous consequences.”
Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will delivered sobering statistics Thursday and encouraged the teens to steer clear from becoming one.
“We lost 38 people last year to drug overdoses because they didn’t make the choice you are making today,” he said. “If this saves one person, everything you have done today was worth it.”
The rally is the perfect forum for a much better message, Reichlin said.
“You know, every kid doesn’t smoke pot and every kid is not getting drunk every weekend,” he said. “Six hundred kids are standing here today, but that’s only what we could bus here. More wanted to come.”
Seth Barrett, a 16-year-old junior at Brookside High School, said he wanted to attend the rally because the past six years have been the hardest of his young life. He battled serious depression, worked hard to get off a special education plan at his school, lost his best friend to suicide and finally admitted he was gay.
“I cry when I’m alone and unleash my anger on my family and friends, but never one time did I do drugs,” he said. “I know I have a long way to go, but I’m going to make it. No matter what problems people are going to have, drugs just make it worse.”
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.