CAMDEN, New Jersey - There are 25,000 gangs in the United States, and one million gang members. Some of the most targeted teens are at-risk, minority, inner-city kids. One woman is facing theses gangs head on, using music to teach kids discipline, confidence, and sophistication.
There's a sight of cadets marching inline to the beat of marching drums. It seems like practice for a marching band; but it's not.
These cadets are marching to a completely different tune than the one arranged for them by their situation. Nearby tough streets where these kids live are filled with gangs, guns, and drugs.
These cadets are some of the over 200 members on the roster of Camden, New Jersey's Sophisticated Sisters and Distinguished Gentlemen Drill Team. And they are proving to be true soldiers of valor.
"I've only been the best secret in Camden for 27 years," saidTawanda Jones, co-founder of the group.
Jones has brought that secret to light, practicing in an abandoned water tower and traveling with other drill teams across the nation.
And proof of the group's success is in the numbers. In a city recently labeled one of the poorest and most violent nationwide, the Sophisticated Ladies have a 100 percent graduation rate.
"You've got to open yourself up to new things, you understand?" Jones told her cadets during a recent practice.
From tots to teens, and to even college graduates, the goal is to represent their home in a positive way and show other kids a way out.
They even made it onto the show "Dancing with the Stars."
"We have a lot of talented kids; we have parents that care," Jones said. "I just want a huge safe haven for these babies so they can have a place to call home, and not worry about bullets flying here and there. A place where they can just be free."
Even though Jones sees firsthand the impact of music on her kids, science is backing it up. A ten year study out of UCLA showed music-making improves test scores and reading proficiency.
The drill team gets all their money from donations.
Currently in the United States, there are close to four million children and adolescents considered to be "at-risk." This can mean anything from drug use to gang involvement to even living below the poverty line. In the United States alone 2,833 children drop out of school each day, 135,000 carry a gun to school, and youth account for close to 18% of all violent crimes. However, arts programs have shown to help these children avoid some of the common pitfalls of at-risk youths. According to a national study, arts programs geared towards helping at-risk children decreased delinquent behavior, improved academic achievement, and lowered dropout rates. These programs have also been shown to boost youths' self-esteem and attitudes about their future. (Source: www.americansforthearts.org)
Other Ways to Help: Children and teens can find help in places other than art programs. First, it is important that troubled kids create healthy and caring relationships with someone they trust. This could be a teacher, a family member, or even a good friend. Being a dependable and stable role model for these kids can go a long way, and people can participate through clubs and organizations such as the Big Brother and Big Sister program. It is also crucial for at-risk youths to set attainable goals for school, a future career, and in their own personal lives. Having something to work towards will focus their energy into that specific task and motivate them to stay out of trouble. Lastly, getting involved at school or around the community through various clubs and programs can open up more opportunities for these kids and can even help them attain scholarships in the future. (Source: www.edutopia.org)