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The Red Ribbon Story

On February 7, 1985 at 2:00 p.m. the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique (Kiki) Camarena was attacked by five men while opening his truck doors intending to drive and meet his wife for lunch. The beige Volkswagen where he was forced in disappeared that warm winter afternoon in the streets of Guadalajara, Mexico. One month later, Camarena’s body was found savagely and grotesquely murdered.

When Camarena joined the US DEA, after having served as a Marine and becoming a police officer, his mother tried to convince him to resign, but he was determined to make a difference. In 1974, he was transferred to Guadalajara, Mexico, the center at the time of the drug trafficking empire and working as an undercover agent was investigating a major drug cartel believed to include officers in the Mexican army, the police and the government. A firm believer of the notion that even one person can make a difference in this world, Camarena, at the age of 37, sacrificed his life to prevent drugs from entering the United States schools and streets.

Honoring his memory, family and friends from his hometown in Calexico, California began wearing red badges of satin signifying his battle against illegal drugs. Soon, coalitions were formed and adopted the symbol of Camarena’s memory: the red ribbon. In 1988, three years after his torture and death, the National Family Partnership organized the first National Red Ribbon Campaign in an effort to reach million of US children and expand Camarena’s dedication to prevent drug use around the world.

Since Camarena’s murder, the Red Ribbon Celebration and every associated campaign has touched the lives of millions of people each year. Annually, during October 23rd to 31st, more than 80 million young people and adults show their commitment to a healthy, drug-free life by wearing or displaying the Red Ribbon. This nationwide effort has become a major force for raising public awareness and mobilizing communities to combat alcohol, drug and tobacco use among youth.

Years later, the red ribbon gained international appeal as a symbol of the fight against AIDS when it was worn by Jeremy Irons at the 1991 Tony Awards. Created by the New York-based Visual AIDS Artists Caucus, this visual symbol demonstrated compassion for people living with AIDS and support to their families. Inspired by the yellow ribbons honoring American soldiers servicing in the Gulf war and the US hostages of the American Embassy in Tehran, the color red was chosen for its connection to blood and as a symbol of passion. After becoming a politically correct fashion accessory, the Red Ribbon is worn on December 1st, each year in memory and support of the HIV/AIDS victims and also to increase public awareness and thus, research funding.

About the Author: John Gibb is the owner of ribbon resources
, For more information on ribbons check out

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