Today, the Red Ribbon Celebration is one of the most recognized annual drug prevention awareness campaigns across the country. Do you know why we celebrate Red Ribbon Week? Here is the story behind this event.
Enrique “Kiki” Camarena grew up in a poor barrio in Mexico. When he was nine years old his family moved to the United States. Enrique was a good student who liked sports and working on his school yearbook. In high school he was voted “best all around senior.” Enrique worked his way through college and earned a degree in Criminal Justice.
After college, served as a U.S. Marine and then as a policeman for the Calexico and El Centro, California Police Departments. In 1974 he joined the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Special Agent. The DEA is a branch of government that works to prevent the flow of drugs into the United States. Enrique worked for the DEA for four years trying to stop illegal drugs from coming into the United States.
The DEA sent Camarena to work undercover in Mexico investigating a major drug cartel believed to include officers in the Mexican army, police, and government. On February 7, 1985, Camarena lost his life in service to this noble cause.
In honor of Camerana’s memory and his battle against illegal drugs, friends and neighbors began to wear red badges of satin. Parents, sick of the destruction of alcohol and other drugs, had begun forming coalitions. Some of these new coalitions took Camarena as their model and embraced his belief that one person can make a difference. These coalitions also adopted the symbol of Camarena’s memory, the red ribbon.
The National Family Partnership organized the first Nationwide Red Ribbon Campaign in 1988. Since that time, the campaign has reached millions of U.S. children.