Since peer pressure is often the force that pushes teen-agers into gangs or drug use, it is up to young people to develop a counterforce to those cultures, says Carson High School senior John Edmerson.
Last February, with the blessing of the school administration, he organized a student assembly where former substance-abusers graphically detailed how their lives had been affected by drugs and alcohol.
Edmerson asked the questions--a youthful Oprah Winfrey or Phil Donahue--then invited members of the audience to participate. His aim was to pressure abusers to drop their habits, or better yet, keep young people out of trouble in the first place.
He followed up with another assembly last week in which ex-gang members told 450 students about the hardships and dangers of being social outcasts.
"The kids ate it up," he said. "They learned some things they didn't know. They heard about people getting killed just for going on somebody else's turf, about what it's like in prison."
Edmerson said his personal crusade hasn't noticeably curbed drugs and gangs on the campus, "but at least we helped raise people's awareness and that's a start."
Most teen-agers can't see that what they're doing is wrong, he said. "The feeling is that, 'Heck, I'll just go around and party one more time,' " he said. "They just want to have fun while they're young and they'll worry about tomorrow, when and if it comes."
Persuading them to prepare for the future is "a long, slow process because people won't change until they want to," he said.
Edmerson is the son of the Rev. John W. Edmerson, pastor of the Normandie Avenue Christian Church in Gardena.
"A good family life is so important," the younger Edmerson said. "I wish every kid could have that."
Edmerson, who is president of the campus Black Heritage Club, said he plans to attend a Christian college in Texas after he graduates, then transfer to Pepperdine to study political science.
Eventually, he said, he plans to run for political office, which he sees as a means to project his ideals on an even bigger stage.