South Shore Drill Team takes national stage at inaugural parade
BY MARY MITCHELL firstname.lastname@example.org December 19, 2012 7:30PM
Updated: January 21, 2013 4:05PM
The South Shore Drill Team has long represented the South Side at festive events, most notably at the annual Bud Billiken Parade.
But on Jan. 21, the 32-year-old drill team will represent the City of Chicago when members march in the inaugural parade for President Barack Obama.
“It is an honor,” exclaimed 15-year-old Raeven Funnye on Wednesday, one day after the announcement that the team would be among 24 groups chosen to participate in the historic event. “I feel privileged to be a part of it.”
The team was passed over four years ago but made the cut this year after an arduous application process in which the team had to demonstrate it had raised its national profile.
The drill team performed for first lady Michelle Obama and foreign dignitaries during the NATO Summit last May, and was the subject of a mini-documentary broadcast on PBS.
Stella Natufe-Smith, the group’s event planner and a former participant, got the call from the inaugural committee at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday via voicemail.
“I listened to it three times because I thought I was hearing things,” she said.
“This is so important because every day that I can remember since the summer, it’s been this child has been shot or that child has been shot,” she added.
“In fact, we lost one of our members to violence in October. This is something that has brought some sunshine to the organization.”
On Oct. 8, 2012, Jonathan Williams, 17, was fatally shot a short distance from the ultramodern “Gary Comer Youth Center: Home of the South Shore Drill Team,” where drill members practice and perform routines.
On Wednesday afternoon, several TV camera crews were parked outside that building, setting up for interviews about the drill team’s national honor.
For the people who have labored throughout the years to give young people on the South Side an alternative to gangs and crime, the sight was exhilarating.
“This puts a positive light on the City of Chicago,” noted Natufe-Smith.
“All of our young people are not walking around killing each other, and that there is some type of organization out there that is providing positive, structured activities.”
Although located in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, the South Shore Drill Team actually serves young people who live throughout the city.
There are no tryouts or fees. The nonprofit works with any kid who has the desire to learn the drills. Last year, the organization served 275 young people.
Jeffrey Lovett, 21, started performing with the group when he was only 8 years old.
“It definitely kept me off the streets. Most of my time was spent with the drill team,” he told me.
Lovett now studies electrical engineering at Coyne College in the Loop, but he also teaches a drill team at North Lawndale High School.
Arthur Robertson, a former public school teacher who marched as a teenager, started the South Shore Drill Team 32 years ago.
“I had some nephews that were teens and I saw them hanging around and not doing anything, and I decided I was going to do something,” he said.
“Kids love order. They love discipline. They need that structure. They need to be able to have something and know how to go out and work for it. This organization can help them become productive citizens and outstanding adults.”
The team will take 54 young people and six adults to D.C. for the inaugural parade but has to raise the $45,628 needed for the three-day trip.
“We are hoping that the kids can do more, that perhaps they can perform at an inaugural ball or at the MLK memorial,” said Sara Vlajcic, the team’s administrator.
Robertson acknowledges that the drill team has “far exceeded” his vision, to the point that the inaugural invite is still sinking in.
“I am just speechless. I don’t have enough adjectives to express it. I am very happy for the kids,” he said.
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If you are still trying to identify the charity you would like to support this season, the South Shore Drill Team is certainly a worthy organization, and their participation in this historic event would make us all proud.
For more information and to donate: southshoredrillteam.org.