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Thousands celebrate anti-drug festival


Greta Johnson had a good excuse to go down to the Annapolis City Dock. So did Deanna Allsup.

Johnson's 14-year-old son was demonstrating tae kwon do at the water side. And Allsup's 12-year-old daughter was dancing with a troupe of young girls.

However, it was more than maternal pride that brought the two women out yesterday. They came to celebrate Annapolis' first Multi-Cultural Drug-Free Summer Festival.

Several thousand people attended the kick-off of what city officials hope will be a drug-free, crime-free summer, said the city's substance abuse specialist, Darius Stanton. Buses picked up city residents who wanted to come to the festival but were unable to get there on their own, Stanton added.

"We are out here to spread the word that drugs are not the way to go," Stanton said. "We wanted this to be a multicultural event because it is important that people know drugs are not just in one community. Drugs don't affect just one race. Drugs are in every community and they can affect any race.

"Once we start to look at the problem of drugs from a multicultural point of view, then we will be able to work at solving the drug problem from a better angle," Stanton added.

Even though the festival was free to the public, Stanton said a portion of money collected by the vendors would go to Helping Hand Inc., a homeless shelter and food pantry.

"[Helping Hands] was a big help in putting this all together," Stanton said. "We all have to help each other out. That's what this multicultural festival is all about."

A sun-filled sky provided the backdrop for the festival, which featured music, food, and arts and crafts along with the anti-drug message. People of different races -- black, white, Hispanic and Asian -- as well as ages toured the booths set up along the Susan Campbell Park at the City Dock.

City police staffed a booth promoting the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, DARE, which brings police officers and students together in the schools. Elsewhere, citizens could register to vote for this year's presidential election and learn which alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs are available in the city and county.

Of course, there were less serious activities. Children could have their faces painted and, at one booth, buy comic books. Vendors displayed everything from books to paintings to T-shirts.

Alfonso Gomar, of Spain, and his companion, Keberne Zavislak, of Scranton, Pa., were vacationing in Annapolis when they decided to go for a stroll and discovered the festival.

"This is very nice," Zavislak said. "I've been here before and I really like it. The festival just adds to the city's atmosphere."

Vivian Gills came to the festival with a dual purpose -- to support her husband, who was running one of the concession stands, and to support the concept of the festival.

"This is just beautiful," Gills said. "I think it's a great idea to get everyone involved. I hope they can do this every year."

Nannette Robidux browsed through a collection of T-shirts with anti-drug messages.

"I think the concept is excellent," Robidux said. "I have a teen-ager at home so I'm collecting everything I can."

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