Student groups fight war on drugs

The House I Live In

Rebecca Soldan, Deandre Radcliffe, Maggi Gratz, James Martin and Deaudra Edgerson discuss the film “The House I Live In,” a documentary about the war on drugs. Photo by Marissa McIntyre/The Jambar.

On Tuesday, various Youngstown State University student organizations hosted a screening of the Eugene Jarecki documentary “The House I Live In,” which explores the war on drugs and the misconceptions that go along with the battle against the black market drug trade.

The Bridges Out of Poverty Student Union, the Black Student Union and the United Purpose II collaborated with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative to host the screening.

Before showing the film, YSU senior Rebecca Soldan asked the 50 people attending to think about three questions while watching the film: “Who is affected by policies of the war on drugs?” “Who benefits from these policies?” “Are we winning the war on drugs?”

Following the screening, Soldan found that the audience had similar answers.

Deaudra Edgerson, president of the Bridges Out of Poverty Student Union, said her initial reaction to the film was sadness.

What stood out most to her was learning that the prison sentence for possessing five grams of crack cocaine is the same as for possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine.

To demonstrate her point, she showed what a gram of baking soda looks like.

Similarly, the film showed five Splenda packets versus 500 Splenda packets.

Soldan and a panel of four including Edgerson, James Martin, Maggi Gratz and Deandre Radcliffe discussed these issues and others with the audience.

Gratz’s reaction to the film was similar to Edgerson’s.

“It causes me some sadness, and it causes me some anger. At the same time, the movie generates some hope that we’ll be able to spread the word,” Gratz said.

One of the topics talked about in the film was the idea that pain behind drug use is more problematic than the drugs themselves.

“We look at drugs like that’s the problem. Really, people want to ease the pain. So, the question is, ‘Why is there so much pain?’” Edgerson said.

The film also discussed how some children are essentially raised to think that they’re destined to sell drugs.

“Kids and families were accustomed to it. They welcomed it as if it were OK. To them, there was no future because that’s what their future was — to be a dope dealer,” Gratz said.

The student organizations all hope to spread awareness of the war on drugs.

“It’s time for our community to think outside the box,” Martin said.

Martin said he works with ex-offenders and teaches them how to get ahead in their lives. He also helps those coming to YSU make the transition from ex-offender to student.

Rebecca Banks, a member of the Bridges Out of Poverty Student Union and a volunteer with the MVOC, said it’s important for the participating groups to collaborate and have events on campus.

“I love how we supported each other in this endeavor,” she said. “It was a wonderful privilege to work with each group.”

Their ultimate goal is changing the conversation about the war on drugs.

“We want to help educate students and make it fun,” Banks said.

The Bridges Out of Poverty Student Union was recently awarded a $3,000 grant through the Raymond John Wean Foundation to hold mixers and help to educate the community.

“They were generous to award it to us to educate the student population. You never know the different things students may be going through on their journey, and we’re here to help,” Banks said.

Edgerson said they will be using the grant to bring more events to campus.

“I have a voice I think is loud. But with everyone else, my voice can be 300 times as loud,” Edgerson said.