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Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott discusses the historic graduation of Muslim students at the Islamic Academy of Columbia, believed to be the first in the nation.


RICHLAND COUNTY, S.C. – Ten Muslim students in Richland County participated in what is believed to be a first-of-its-kind event of the educational drug program called D.A.R.E.

Friday’s D.A.R.E. graduation at the Islamic Academy of Columbia is said to be the first time the program was allowed to participate and hold a graduation at any Muslim school in the nation.

In an auditorium before more than 100 people, 10 students were honored for participating in the national program launched in the 1980s to help teach pupils about drugs, violence and bullying, among other high-risk circumstances that are part of their lives.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the department became involved with the school, after he and one of the department’s chaplains began searching for ways to engage Richland County’s Muslim community.

“We have a very large Muslim community within Richland County,” Lott said. “Our job is to make sure that we touch everybody in Richland County and not leave anybody out.”

The students who participated received D.A.R.E. certificates and shirts. And the decision-making model the students learned through the program also will help them through the rest of their lives, Lott said.

“It’s about … teaching our young people on how to make good, intelligent decisions and to be good role models,” Lott said. “We’re just excited about being here. This is part of Richland County, this Muslim community. There’s no reason why we should not be reaching out to them and developing a relationship.”

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