Five Washington women vs. drugs in school

Devon is practicing his Kung Fu self-defense exercises in the day-care center in a less-affluent corner of Washington.

Devon's mother, Vonneva, has also learned a thing or two about fighting back. She is fighting back against formidable odds--specifically, stereotypes that blacks are more likely to abuse drugs and opiates than whites.

Vonneva and her friends, Barbara, Audrey, Joyce, and Joan, are working hard to dispel that myth and another: that being a black, low-income single parent means you can't do what's best for your children.

These five feisty mothers two years ago formed PYADA--Parents and Youth Against Drug Abuse. Upset by the number of drug overdoses, juvenile crimes, and drug sales by children to other children in the neighborhood, these women decided to stop waiting for the schools, the police, and the government and change things themselves.

A battery of parents volunteered to be in the schools from 9 to 3. Even in the high schools, children must now obtain permission to leave school grounds once they arrive. Parents patrol the local playground. Explains another mother, ''Parents who have to work, such as myself, felt very uneasy (prior to PYADA) about those kids who are young pushers. . . .''

''You could look out the (school) window and see the pushers up the street,'' says Barbara. ''We made the police aware of that and they moved 'em. I won't say how far they moved 'em,'' she laughs. ''But they moved 'em.''

Children were also exposed to drugs in some day-care centers. ''Little ones were rolling joints made out of construction paper,'' says another mother.

Initially, many other parents supported their idea of a neighborhood parent-type watch. But, Vonneva explains, ''they didn't really want to get involved.''

Why were the parents so resistant? ''Most parents had this escape plan to eventually move away from this neighborhood,'' Vonneva explains. ''But what happens is that most people don't leave. So we had to look at what's already here.'' One woman who had recently moved into the area had no intention of meeting with other parents. She got involved only when her children started attending the meetings. As the group's name indicates, youth participation is absolutely essential to the group's success.

PYADA's roots were firm. Vonneva and her teen-age son, Keith, had two years earlier formed a youth group called Talent Inc. to help neighborhood kids explore drug-free alternatives. ''Kids don't abuse drugs because they're against the law,'' Vonneva explains. ''They do it, among other reasons, because they're bored. Kids love to perform, we never had a problem of getting them involved.''

Just a year after the group's inception, PYADA convinced Washington's mayor to declare a first-ever Drug and Alcohol Prevention Week in June 1981. Stemming from the successes of those initial ventures, the group is planning a youth community resource center. Local businesses are being asked to donate, not money, but jobs for students.

By the teen-agers' own admission, there has been a significant decrease in marijuana smoking in the high school. But beyond that, PYADA exists to ''dispel the myth that parents can't do anything,'' says Vonneva. ''We hope especially that the black, single parents see they can do something.''

Low incomes and divorces are no excuse, group members maintain. One mother, her hair in tight cornrows says, ''Just because my husband and I don't get along , doesn't mean we can't do what's best for our kids.''

Lack of education doesn't hold back these women either. ''What does that have to do with it,'' demands Vonneva. ''You raised that kid.''

Right now what's most important to this band of mothers is finding and joining with similar groups. ''I cannot believe that what we're doing is not going on in other minority communities,'' says Vonneva with just a hint of exasperation. ''I get so tired of hearing that (groups like PYADA) can't happen in the black community. It has happened. It is happening.''

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