ALICIA BROWN’S PUBLIC-SERVICE Announcement is one of the more powerful moments in advertising vérité. It begins with a close-up of 15-year-old Alicia recalling the horrifying scene at a Friday night dance last November when one of her friends was gunned down. “There was a knock at the side door. The music was loud. The boy opened it…we were laughing and teasing one another…gunshot. Three shots…three shots fired…. He was killed.”
The camera then cuts to the Oval Office, where President Clinton puts his hands on Alicia’s shoulders and urges viewers to call a toll-free number for a brochure on how to reduce neighborhood violence. Since the 60-second spots began airing in March, calls to the antiviolence hot line have tripled. Alicia also has become something of a poster girl against killing and has appeared on Donahue.
The unusually composed eighth-grader from Washington’s Eliot Junior High School was tapped for the spots last March after she testified before a House subcommittee on crime. “In the past two years I’ve had six friends killed, and I’m only 14,” she says. “It’s crazy.” In fact, her visit to the White House in March made Alicia—who lives with her mother, Isha Williams, 31, three siblings and her great-grandmother, Louise Patterson, 80—late for the funeral of classmate Tasha Pitt, 13, who had been shot to death. “Alicia stands out,” says Elynorc Parler, an attendance officer at her school. An honor student who wants to be a lawyer, she sometimes favors skirls, stockings and heels over the typical uniform of baggy denims. “She’s demure,” says Parler. She’s—as the kids would say—chilled.”
But the all-too-frequent funerals and violence have taken their toll. Last semester, for the first time. Alicia’s grades fell below A. Consequently she plans to transfer next year to a safer school district. “It’s too much,” she says. “I worry about being caught in the wrong place. You can only hope and pray.”