FLUSHING — The Underground Railroad Museum is a storehouse of history, but curator John Mattox aims to connect young people with the past and relate to their present issues, particularly the temptation of drugs, with a new series of presentations.
Mattox said he has given past presentations for Olney Friends School in Barnesville and East Richland Friends School, located west of St. Clairsville. This past Friday, he spoke with high school students from Union Local School District’s after-school program.
“We are commemorating the past and moving forward,” Mattox said. “What we are really trying to do is dig into these young people’s minds by coming into the museum and speaking about the amount of time they have left to get their act together, because with the great impact of drugs in this area, we want to give them information that would be necessary to be successful in life.”
Mattox noted that during his service on the re-entry committee of Belmont Correctional Institution, the board of directors of the Sargus Juvenile Center and his presentations at the Eastern Ohio Correction Center, he has seen drug use as the common factor in crime.
“I see these problems from being on the board at Sargus, when these young kids are by the courts mandated to go to Sargus, then I see them when they’re grownups at the Belmont Correctional Institution,” Mattox said.
“What I want to do is stop the trend toward these institutions before I find it’s too late,” he said. “I know they have problems getting instruction from home because both parents are working, and then you can’t blame the schools because the problem has probably ingested into their system, but when you go and visit grandmother, and she has all these pills in the restroom, they take them. Then they’re involved and they end up in this bad situation.”
Mattox noted that open dialogue is a key component of the presentations.
“When these groups come, I tell my story, and I get the young people involved, because I want them to ask the questions that they don’t have the opportunity to ask,” he said, adding that students are encouraged to engage. “We allow the young people to participate in the conversation — give them a chance to ask questions about different things that they have no knowledge of.”
He also spoke about the various temptations young people must face.
“I think it’s a great shame that the pharmaceutical industry allows these pills to be ingested by our young future citizens,” he said. “Young children being encouraged by people bringing their ideas and their low common denominator into our area.”
Mattox added that destructive pursuits can seem rewarding in the short term.
“When they see young people in big, fine automobiles, dressed in fancy clothes, they want to be like them,” Mattox said of the teens. “They go to the malls and they see people wearing clothes that they want, to be fashion-minded. Then they’ll see strangers riding in large cars with license plates out of counties that aren’t local.”
Mattox commended the alertness of local law enforcement and the likelihood that participants in drug-related activities will be caught.
“If you tell people someone is always watching, then they need to be careful with their actions,” he said, adding that the museum could be another resource in the fight against the drug epidemic. “The Underground Railroad wants to be a bridge to sustain their belief that America has more to offer to them than ingesting these pharmaceuticals.”
Mattox also pointed to the importance of making young people aware of alternatives that create a connection with the community.
“The most important thing to get them involved with is volunteerism. If you can just get them to volunteer into community activities, it will change their whole outlook on life,” he said.
He also hopes to continue to connect young people with mentors and encourage success through education.
“They need mentors. They need people who have had the experience, and I have had the experience, and I just want to give back to the community,” he said. “These young people can be a part of the future of America. The good part.”
Mattox added that an understanding of history also encourages thinking in the long term. He asks the students to consider the future: When they seek employment, an employer will takes into account whether an applicant has a clean background or a record of drug use.
“You can do anything you want if you have the qualifications and the desire and the passion,” he concluded.