Anti-drug crusader Montel Williams joked and laughed with 550 San Pedro students last week--and gave them a new set of the three Rs while imploring them to stay away from drugs.
In addition to reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic, Williams told the ninth-graders at Dodson Junior High School to learn restraint, responsibility and respect.
"You better learn respect right now for yourself," Williams exhorted the students. "If you start respecting yourself--guess what--maybe other people will respect you."
Williams, who came to the school under the sponsorship of Pepsi-Cola to spread an anti-drug, improve-yourself message, immediately grabbed the students' attention when he walked down the center aisle, and he never let their attention stray.
Dressed in black, his head shaved, Williams used sarcasm and street talk pulled from a persuasive bag of speaking tricks. He pranced around the auditorium. He mugged, pleaded and screamed.
Williams told the boys they were not men just because "God gifted you with the equipment to make a baby," and he urged the girls to have self-esteem: Don't be fooled into spending time with a man "for a piece of plastic, a meal and a ride."
Williams, 33, also told the students not to become high school dropouts.
Without an education, he said, their job future would be bleak. "Hi, welcome to McDonald's," Williams mimicked. "Can I take your order?"
Pepsi-Cola Co. Los Angeles paid $3,000 for Williams' 90-minute visit. The money will go to his Denver-based nonprofit organization called Reach the American Dream, which he founded in 1988 to motivate youngsters to stay in school and avoid drugs. Williams, who said he receives 12% of the honorariums for his appearances, has talked to an estimated 1.5 million students across the country since January, 1988.
Williams, a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, was invited to speak at Dodson by Ralph Mays, coordinator of the Long Beach Naval Station's Personal Excellence Program. It adopted Dodson in 1988 as part of a nationwide outreach effort, which involves the Navy with local community and youth organizations and emphasizes academics, health and fitness.
In his presentation, Williams frequently shouted, "Mountain, get out of my way," a reference to the biblical declaration that faith can move mountains.
"What that means to me," Williams told the students, "is it doesn't matter if you think you have some little obstacle. . . . If that obstacle seems to be as big as a mountaintop," just move it with education and knowledge.
Williams also staged a skit about the nation's drug problem.
Four Dodson ninth-graders pretended to buy $55.15 worth of drugs from a dealer named Dr. Feelgood, played by Williams.
"I got something for your $55 that I keep in my pocket," Williams declared as he fired a cap gun, pretending to kill the youngsters and startling the audience.
"I didn't do this because I wanted you guys to get a big kick out of this pop gun," Williams said. "This is happening all over L.A. . . . It isn't so funny, and it won't be so funny when you wind up like this."