A Sense of Belonging: Pearl (Mississippi) High School

With determination and a good support system, a drum major overcomes discrimination and rises to the occasion.

“And the award for overall most outstanding drum majors goes to … The Pearl High School Band.

Hearing this announcement was undoubtedly my favorite moment as a drum major because, in that moment, I felt like I belonged.

It was an uphill battle to get where I am today. As a black saxophonist at one of the most competitive high school bands in Mississippi, I’ve always felt like I didn’t belong. Why? Maybe it’s because I’ve been told some of the following things:

  • “You’ll never be a drum major.”
  • “You’ll never get ahead because you’re black.”
  • “You cannot be a drum major because you are too overweight.”
  • “You’re not one of the preppy, super scholar-type people.”

After receiving many comments of this manner, I started to doubt myself. There were many nights when I felt like giving up. At one point I even considered quitting band altogether.

Major Preparation

Luckily my mentor, Matthew Pickering, the associate director of bands, is quick to loan influential words of wisdom. With instruction from my mentor as well as support from my church family at Mt. Elam Missionary Baptist Church, I was able to withstand the hardships.

Leading up to my drum major audition, I attended the Hinds Community College band camp twice and The University of Southern Mississippi’s drum major camp for one session, where I received instruction in conducting and leadership. I also received private instruction from my mentor. When the audition finally came, I felt more than prepared. The audition consisted of a playing audition, sight conducting, tempo memory, pattern demonstrations, a prepared piece, and an interview. After the audition, I felt more than confident about how it had gone, so it was no surprise to me when I found out that I had earned one of the three drum major spots.

Major Problems

The next day at school, one of my fellow band members said to me, “I’m surprised that they let you be a drum major. You couldn’t lead a fish to water.”

It was at that moment when I knew that new problems had begun.

As we prepared for the upcoming season, I was able to get to know my colleagues. I quickly learned that I was not their favorite person. One of them always asserted his authority over mine, and it seemed as though I was always the outlier of the three of us. People in my band would often ask me, “Why don’t they like you?” I had no answer.

One of our responsibilities as drum majors was to construct a conducting routine for our show music. Here, we really started to disagree. You see, I conduct more show style while my colleagues conduct more corps style. Throughout the building of our routine, my ideas and suggestions were all denied, frustrating me to the point that I started keeping a list of all my ideas that were pitched. I kept my mouth shut and did as I was told, performing a routine that I had no part in creating. After a while my director started noticing issues with the clarity of our patterns, so he edited our routine a good bit. Out of the eight things that he changed, six of them were on my list of denied ideas. I was glad to see that some changes had been made even though I never said anything out loud.

A New Day

We went on performing our new routine at Friday night games and competitions. We received superior ratings in every competition that judged in the drum major caption. On Oct. 17 for the Emerald Coast Marching Classic, we performed at Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where we were awarded most outstanding drum majors in the competition.

That night my head drum major said to us, “I love you guys.” That night I felt like all the grief and hardship I’d gone through leading up to that day was worth it. From that moment I felt that I had a new relationship with my colleagues.

Through my experiences I’ve learned that in life you won’t always overcome your obstacles. Sometimes you just have to learn how to live with your situation until it resolves itself. Just remember why you do what you do, and at the end of the day, take a deep breath and laugh.

Photo courtesy of Missy Summerlin.