(sounds of drumming)
The Shadydale Drum Corps is practicing in the parking lot outside their school. Their elementary school.
That’s right. The oldest member of this drum corps is 11. The youngest is five.
“We’ve always had to have something for the children to do, to keep them out of trouble, to keep them busy. And the drum corps became a place for those children who were having discipline problems, grade problems, conduct problems, so they were referred to us and that’s when the transformation came.”
That’s Jaffar Milledge. He started the Shadydale Drum Corps about eight years ago. And he says it worked. Grades went up, attitudes changed and all of a sudden the group of pint-sized drummers started getting some serious attention.
“Competitions, if they say there’s a competition we’ll be there. And we’ve even asked to be put on a middle school, high school, or even college level to compete. We have a fighting chance — if you’ve heard or seen our group — we have a fighting chance”
That’s not empty bragging. For the past two years, Shadydale has taken first place at every competition they’ve been to — even against high school drumlines.
Jamal Anderson and Issac Claiborne are ten and eleven, respectively. They both joined the drum corps five years ago.
Laurie Johnson: “What do they think when they see elementary school kids walking up?”
“Oh my God. Look at them little kids. When we first get there, they be like look at them little kids. When we win all against them they be like mmm.”
The kids work hard to earn their title. They drill three hours a day, four days a week. Milledge volunteers all his time with the group. He says it’s worth it when he sees a light come on in a child’s eyes, when they understand and feel the music.
“You get chills bumps, especially when they perform and you’re in the heat of the moment. I’ve cried and even caught myself raising my hand as if I was in church praising God, because it’s a miracle manifestation of something that you don’t see often”
And they’re taught this is about more than just beating a drum. It’s a tradition handed down in the African-American community, a vehicle to express how they feel about life and their culture.
And Milledge says he doesn’t want his work to end here. He hopes to start another drum corps at nearby Felix Cook Elementary.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.