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DNA Info Chicago
July 22, 2016

After Brush With Death, South Shore Drill Team Leader Seeks To Save Lives

By Justin Breen | July 22, 2016 6:03am @dnainfo_breen

Jeffery Lovett (Center)
Jeffrey Lovett (center) performs for the South Shore Drill Team at the 2014 Bud Billiken Parade.

CHICAGO — When Jeffrey Lovett says he's trying to save lives through his beloved South Shore Drill Team, it's because he knows what it's like to almost die.

For most of his life, the 23-year-old East Side resident has been part of the squad, for which he's performed in hundreds of parades throughout the city, country and world. For the last several years, he's mentored some of the younger drill team members, helping to keep them off the streets and in the sanctuary of the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave., where the organization holds its practices.

"We're trying to save lives here, and in Chicago we need that," said Lovett, a Bronzeville native and Dunbar High School graduate.

Lovett understands the meaning of life and death. One of his best friends and former teammates, Jonathan Williams, was fatally shot in 2012. Williams had recently quit the team, and Lovett said he was on the way to talk to Williams in an effort to bring him back when Williams was shot in his head.

"They got him before we could," Lovett said. "A lot of my close friends have lost their lives."

Lovett is far more fortunate. While trying to break up a fight at a hotel party on Feb. 12, 2011, Lovett was shot near his stomach, requiring surgery on his small intestine and colon. Lovett's wound was closed with 29 staples, and a 12-inch, ruler-long scar remains. He stayed at Christ Medical Center for two weeks afterward, waited another few months before returning to practice and performed for the first time since the shooting at a 2011 Fourth of July parade in Evanston.

"Why was I meant to survive? That was God," Lovett said. "Doctors told me where I was shot was an inch away from instant death."

Lovett said he's making the most of his brush with death by continuing to play a key role with the drill team. He first joined as a 10-year-old "New Recruit," holding a stick covered in black and white tape and marching in the Bud Billiken Parade. He's since moved up the ranks — from Pee Wee, to American Flag holder, to Cadet and finally Big Guard — before graduating to his role as Junior Instructor. "

"Jeff is one of the team members that we wish all of our members would be like," said Rickey McBride, a South Shore Drill Team alumnus and an instructor for its Rifle Line.  "He is a hard worker and a great performer. He takes his leadership role seriously and a lot of the younger children look up to him."

Lovett currently mentors a dozen South Shore Drill Team members, ranging in age from 13 to 18. One of them, 18-year-old Eric Peterson, described Lovett as "my second family."

"Basically he gives me the guidance to stay focused and that the streets are not the way to go," said Peterson, of Bronzeville and a recent Wendell Phillips Academy graduate. "That's my big brother. I just listen to him."

Lovett still performs in dozens of events each year, including Aug. 13's Bud Billiken Parade. The drill team has taken him all over the world, to places such as Morocco, and it's allowed him to meet first lady Michelle Obama, too.

Lovett, who works in the University of Chicago's food service department, recently passed the Chicago firefighter written exam and is planning to take the physical test next year. But a full-time gig fighting fires won't keep him from the drill team.

"It's my passion," he said.  "I'll never take myself away from it."


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