REPRESENT MAGAZINE

Magazine helps kids with family drug woes

The first memory Natasha Santos has of her mother is of the woman banging her sister's head into the stove.

"There was blood everywhere," said Santos, who was 4 years old at the time.

"I didn't know she was on crack. I just thought she was crazy," said Santos, 16. "I didn't want any part of that."

Santos was a teenager before she learned of her mother's drug addiction. She spoke of her family's struggles with drugs at the office of Youth Communication, where she is one of several young writers for its publication Represent. Youth Communication helps young adults develop reading, writing and other skills.

Represent's writers are all in the foster care system. In the magazine's March/April issue, some of them describe how crack cocaine devastated their families.

Antwaun Garcia writes how the term "crack baby" nearly destroyed his life. After he struggled to read aloud in the fourth grade, a classmate called him a "crack baby."

"When I first heard it I was kind of confused -- what exactly was that?" said Garcia, 20. "I felt isolated, I felt different, confused and alone. I didn't want to be part of anything."

In his article "They Called Me a Crack Baby," Garcia wrote that from that day on "just about all the kids in fourth grade began calling me 'slow,' 'dirty,' and 'crack baby.' I started to believe those things about myself and I constantly imagined what the kids were saying to each other about me. I felt stupid and worthless."

His home life, across the street from a notorious crack house, was not exactly conducive to a happy childhood.

"Maybe it's because I actually was born with crack in my system," Garcia wrote. "Or maybe it's because my home was chaotic and my parents never sat me down and read me stories or taught me the ABCs."

Garcia dropped out and began hanging out on the street. When he was 10, an aunt became his foster mother, providing a loving and stable home, and Garcia's life turned around.

"Now, 10 years later, that kid who was called a crack baby is in college about to get his associate degree," Garcia writes. "I am not done yet. I have a lot more things I want to accomplish in my life, and I am not letting no one or no label hold me back from achieving anything."

Such labels are dangerous to children, said Deborah Frank, a professor of pediatrics at Boston University and a principal investigator on a study funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse to follow children with and without cocaine exposure.

"Children internalize and regard themselves as damaged and mentally retarded," said Frank.

"There is no such thing as a crack baby, no such syndrome," Frank added in a telephone interview.

Maternal smoking, poor nutrition and stress are just as likely to contribute to problems in newborns, such as low birth weight, she said. "The effects of having impoverished, poorly educated caregivers usually accounts for more of the child's deficits than prenatal exposure," Frank said.

Miguel Ayala agrees. Ayala, 21, writes in the magazine how "crack tore my family apart."

He said his father -- "a very good man -- he made sure what he needed we had" -- came home from Vietnam as a war hero.

"But he was traumatized by what happened out there. He lost some of his friends. He came back to the states and resorted to drugs. His number one drug of choice was crack."

When Ayala and his twin brother were 3, their father died. Their mother didn't want to take care of them and the boys were placed in foster care, where Ayala said he was abused sexually, emotionally and physically.

He was later placed in another home, but his traumatic past had taken a toll. He said he tried to kill himself several times, and after an altercation at his foster care he moved to a homeless shelter.

With the help of Youth Communication staff, Ayala is trying to get his life back on track, and writing helps him do that.

"I always think that no matter what happened, I can still make it," said Ayala, who wants to write a memoir, work at a newspaper or become a social worker.

Represent's young staffers say writing helps them sort out their thoughts and keeps them on a positive track.

Natasha Santos took a bunch of the magazines to her high school one day, and they were all taken within an hour.

"I saw a bunch of kids just reading it, and I felt so good," Santos said.


By Donna De la Cruz
Associated Press Writer


http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/sns-ap-crack-babies-magazine,0,1343328.story?coll=sns-ap-nation-headlines


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