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Middle and high school students enter the UMBC Event Center to attend the B’More Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness. Photo by Aaron Wescott.

Melania Trump met with boos, protesters at UMBC Event Center

First lady Melania Trump was booed by Baltimore youth while giving a speech at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Event Center on Nov. 26.

Trump was one of the many guests that spoke in front of local middle and high school students as a part of the B’More Youth Summit on Opioid Awareness. The summit was created in part by the Drug Enforcement Agency 360 campaign and the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation. Teens from almost 40 schools listened to guest speakers, rappers, a student poet and a marching band from Baltimore City College, and watched a short movie about addiction.

Trump made a guest appearance halfway through the summit and was greeted with students’ boos. The booing continued as she began her speech but ultimately shifted to the audience simply talking over her. After her approximately five-minute speech, the First Lady wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving, and left the stage with both cheers and boos from the audience.

Opioid use is one of the three pillars in the first lady’s initiative “Be Best,” along with cybersecurity and well-being. Originally Trump focused more on neonatal abstinence syndrome and educating mothers about healthy pregnancies, but she has since expanded her program to include preventing opioid use among America’s youth.

“Promoting education and awareness of these issues will always be part of my top priorities,” Trump said in her speech. “I am in this fight with you and I’m fighting for you.”

“I know each of you has hopes and dreams for the future, whether it’s college, joining the military or playing sports,” Trump said. “Your future will be determined by the choices you make. Using drugs will only slow you down and prevent you from achieving those goals.”

Among the several guest speakers at the summit, the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rob Hur noted that Trump’s presence served “as an indication at just how serious the White House and our entire government is taking the opioid epidemic that faces us today.”

“The last thing we want is for [the youth] to fall prey to addiction and become another statistic here in Maryland. We hope to educate kids today in a way that we can gather and keep their attention,” Hur said.

Trump was introduced on the stage by Jim Wahlberg, Mark Wahlberg’s older brother. Wahlberg represented the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation which partners with other organizations to create youth-based programs to raise awareness of a variety of issues.

“This is not a political issue. This is not an ‘I belong to this party’ or ‘I belong to that party’ issue,” Wahlberg said shortly before introducing Trump to the stage. “This is a life or death issue and we need everybody’s participation.”

Still, Trump’s appearance on campus sparked a protest right outside the Event Center, organized by UMBC’s Young Democratic Socialists of America charter. YDSA president Nate Stewart explained the organization’s opposition by stating “[President] Trump has perpetuated a health crisis by treating addiction as a crime instead of a disease…and we think Melania Trump on campus only normalizes that sort of epidemic.”

“There is real reasons to protest any Trump on campus. I don’t think it is right to have her talking to all these kids while her husband is putting children in cages on the border,” Stewart said. “That sort of hypocrisy needs to be laid bare for the community to see.”

About 20 students, holding signs with slogans including “drug laws are racist,” “abolish police” and “just say ‘no’ to big pharma,” came to the protest, which started at 10 a.m. Participant’s chants were directed at the middle and high schoolers entering the Event Center, several of whom joined the chanting or cheered for the protesters. Three middle school-aged children even asked the protesters to pose with them for a picture.

Trump issued a statement later the same day about the booing she received, saying, “We live in a democracy and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the fact is we have a serious crisis in our country and I remain committed to educating children on the dangers and deadly consequences of drug abuse.”