Drum corps provides Austin youth with music and mentoring

June 7, 2010
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Alexa Dixon wasn’t always as confident as she is now. The Austin Voise Academy sophomore said there was a time when she was shy and would get nervous in front of crowds.

But all that changed when she joined the Exodus Drum and Bugle Corps just over a year ago.

When she first saw the 40-some member group perform at her church, Austin’s Prince of Peace Baptist Church, she knew immediately she wanted to join.

“I love watching them play the drums; I’ve always wanted to play,” said Dixon. Now, after a year in the group, Dixon says that Exodus has definitely helped her confidence level.

But building confidence isn’t the only goal of the Exodus Drum and Bugle Corps, directed by Jerome Altman. Its primary goal, in the words of Altman, is to keep kids off the street and “out of the judicial system.”

Today, the program that started in the basement of the Prince of Peace Church is located at 3350 W. Jackson Blvd. in Garfield Park. Despite no longer being based in Austin, Altman estimates that 90 percent of the children and teens in the group live in Austin.

Exodus, which was created in 1997 as a way to help grandparents look after their grandchildren and provide music education, has grown to more than 40 members ranging from 4 to college-age.

The group provides youth with the mentoring necessary to make them productive parts of the community and encourage them to continue their education beyond high school, a goal achieved by two former members now studying at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.

Part of this approach is to directly link volunteerism with the musical performances. One example of this is a joint venture with the National Block Club University in which the members of Exodus hand out literature about the groups mission in different communities around the city as well as support activities for that day.

Volunteerism is not the only requirement of Exodus’ members. Elliot Leonard, another of the group’s leaders, said, “As far as education goes, [group members] have to maintain a C average … and, of course, they have to be good citizens.”

Sam Morton, a bass drummer who’s played with Exodus for three years, says the outreach portion of the program has been very rewarding.

“[My favorite part] has been going out and getting more recruits for the band. And to teach, lead [other kids] down the right way instead of hanging out on the streets.”

Exodus recently performed at the “Beat the Street Spelling Bee” at Austin Town Hall and at its pre-Mothers Day fundraiser at 2926 W. Madison St.

To sign up for the Exodus Drum and Bugle Corps, call Jerome Altman at (773) 269-8516, or e-mail him at Exodusdb@yahoo.com.

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