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Youth Group Needs $45K to March in Presidential Inaugural Parade

By Wendell Hutson | December 28, 2012 7:14am | Updated on December 28, 2012 11:08am

GRAND CROSSING — Four years ago, the famed South Shore Drill Team wanted to perform in President Barack Obama's inaugural parade, but didn't make the cut.

After four years of practice, the 32-year old nonprofit youth organization, featured in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," was selected as one of 50 groups out of 2,800 to participate in the Jan. 21 event.

But there's just one catch — getting there.

To participate in the ceremony, each group must pay its own way to Washington, D.C., and back, according to officials at the military's Joint Task Force — National Capital Region, which organizes the parade with the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

 Female members of the South Shore Drill Team line up to perform at the annual Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago.
Female members of the South Shore Drill Team line up to perform at the annual Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago.
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South Shore Drill Team

The tab is about $45,000 for the 50 youth and 10 adults who will represent the club at the inaugural, according to Stella Natufe-Smith, events coordinator for the South Shore Drill Team.

That cost, about $750 apiece, also covers hotel rooms and food for members of the team — which specializes in "precision drilling and a wide range of dance routines," according to the group's website.

"We found out from from the White House last week that our application was accepted this time, and we have been trying to raise money ever since," Natufe-Smith said.

"One way or the other we will get there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our kids and we will not disappoint them."

As of Friday, the drill team, made up of 300 inner-city, minority youth, had raised $1,000.

Some fundraisers for the drill team have included dinners hosted by parents at their churches and on their blocks. The group also is seeking donors to help secure the cash.

According to Natufe-Smith, hotel reservations already have been made at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md., just outside the capital, where the group will stay from Jan. 19-21.

The group, founded in 1980, serves as a lifeline for its members, "helping young people in some of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods steer clear of gangs, drugs and violence," according to the group's website.

While many members come from schools with dropout rates as high as 55 percent, the group says its members receive tutoring, have their grades monitored and have a graduation rate of "more than 99 percent."

According to the drill team's site, some 85 percent of its members come from inner-city neighborhoods where they are confronted by violence, gangs, and drugs.

"Many members walk past drug corners or cross gang lines to and from school and team rehearsals," the site said.

Each year the group of 8- through 21-year-olds, performs 125 shows, and practices weekly at the Gary Comer Youth Center in Grand Crossing, said Ayoka Samuels, senior program director for the center.

"Prior to the Comer Center, the South Shore Drill Team practiced wherever they could find enough space — church basements, parks, you name it," Samuels said. "Now they practice here for free as our anchor tenant. [And] many of the youth with the drill team also participate in our programs as well."

 The South Shore Drill Team performs at the Bud Billiken Parade in Bronzeville in 2011.
The South Shore Drill Team performs at the Bud Billiken Parade in Bronzeville in 2011.
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South Shore Drill Team

To ensure the group was selected this year, Natufe-Smith said it spent the last four years networking with politicians.

"This past May we performed for first lady Michelle Obama during the NATO summit in Chicago," said Natufe-Smith. "She hosted a luncheon for the wives of NATO leaders at the Gary Comer Center."

The group also performed for Mayor Rahm Emanuel at his inaugural last year, the Fiesta Bowl, the Kentucky Derby and the reopening of Soldier Field.

Most performances by the drill team are paid events, but parade appearances, such as the annual South Side Bud Billiken Parade, are free shows.

Donations are accepted online at southshoredrillteam.org and "every penny collected will be spent on the kids," Natufe-Smith said.