Not Another Stereotype

A male flutist overcomes bullying and a rough family history to become drum major and drum major coordinator of the Alabama State University Mighty Marching Hornets, star of the reality television show “Bama State Style.”

Coming from a family with six siblings and where joining street gangs was more common than graduating high school, I was advised by my oldest brother to participate in band. My dad originally had four boys, and then another three, who were my half siblings. I am the youngest of the first four and the only one of us all to have obtained an official high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. I was never really interested in sports, so my brother figured I would enjoy being in band. Also, he knew that joining a school organization would keep me focused and grounded in school, so that I would not become another stereotype.

EARLY IMPRESSIONS

When I first joined band in the sixth grade, I immediately knew I was in the right organization. I aspired to play saxophone, but my mom facetiously suggested that I play the flute, only because she thought that it was the cheapest instrument. The next day, I told my band director that I had to play the flute instead of the saxophone. When the director issued me an instrument, I was more than excited to take it home. When I showed my mom, she said, “That does not look like a saxophone to me.” That’s when I realized she was only joking from the beginning.

I really enjoyed band and enjoyed playing the flute as well. In fact, I was first chair every year I played in grade school. I fell in love with leadership at an early age.

One day during band class, the band director let us watch a series of halftime field shows. That’s when I first caught sight of a drum major and decided that I could become one.

The only part I hated about band was being teased and humiliated by my peers for playing the flute. Because I felt embarrassed during middle school, I no longer wanted to pursue band in high school. During the summer of 2004, I received several calls from the band director at the high school that I was to attend in the upcoming fall. I told him I was no longer interested in band because of the instrument that I played. Ironically, he explained to me that he was also a male flutist and that he would play alongside me if it made me more comfortable. I then decided that those who teased me were not properly educated if they thought that instruments were gender-based, and that’s what helped me brush
it off. I found myself back in band and made first chair again!

BEST OF THE BEST

After my freshman year of high school, my band director suggested that I try out for drum major. I made it as one of the drum majors but was later cut due to the small band size. I went out again the next year, and I became head drum major for my junior and senior years.

After high school I thought I was done with band. I wanted to concentrate on my studies in college. But something kept calling me back, and after a little suggestion and motivation from friends and family, I joined the Mighty Marching Hornets at Alabama State University (ASU). I heard that they made appearances on national television, are nationally known, and were getting new uniforms and going on road trips. So, of course, I chose to continue my quest as drum major. I made co-head drum major
my very first time trying out.

Going from being a freshman to becoming one of the top leaders of a 250-plus member band was no easy task. That had to be one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was pressured from every angle to be on point at all times. Not only was the head drum major breathing down my neck, but the
band directors and the band members were as well. I then went on to being head drum major in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

My favorite, most rewarding and memorable moment was being told by Dr. James B. Oliver, ASU’s director of bands, that he had placed me in his top five drum majors ever. At the time, he had been there already for about 10 years, so that means I was in the top out of 50-plus drum majors, past and
present. Another great moment was when my picture was made part of the signage for the new ASU football stadium in 2012.

TEACHING A NEW GENERATION

One of the main reasons why I aspired to be head drum major was to use that platform to inspire younger generations, to be an advocate for other young men growing up. I am now the drum major coordinator (shown in picture) at ASU, sharing my experiences and passing on skills to those who wish to be great. To help them reach their goals of becoming influential leaders, I train them just as I was trained, and I tell
them about my experiences. I tell them not only of the perks to come but also of the challenges, trials and tribulations.

Recently, I was fortunate enough to make it on national television with the Mighty Marching Hornets on our reality show, “Bama State Style.” I cannot explain the emotions I felt when I saw myself on TV for the first time. It has been quite an experience, one that I will never forget.

Being in marching band made me keep my grades up. You have to have a certain grade point average to try out for drum major at ASU. It has prepared me for the professional world and taught me to
persevere through all things, no matter what. It humbled me as well. Lastly, it taught me to be a well-rounded person. I am grateful for my experiences.

Photo by Orin Henderson

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