In 1980, Chicago public school teacher Arthur Robertson founded South Shore Drill Team to offer a positive and creative outlet for inner-city youth. What began with four neighborhood children twirling wooden rifles has grown into a nationally-known organization that performs at more than 125 events and serves more than 300 young people ages 8 to 21 every year.
Well-known for its electrifying precision-drilling and wide range of dance routines, the Drill Team has performed at such venues as Walt Disney World, Soldier Field, the Kentucky Derby, and the Indy 500, and is a perennial favorite at Chicago’s annual Bud Billiken Parade. The group’s mission extends far beyond entertainment, however. First and foremost, the organization is a prevention program devoted to helping young people in some of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods steer clear of gangs, drugs, and violence while developing a strong work ethic, self-confidence, and a respect for themselves and others.
For many members, the team is like a second family. Older members teach younger members, former members return as coaches and mentors. All members are required to be students in good standing, and their grades are monitored. Tutoring is available for those who struggle in school, but shine as performers. Though many team members attend schools with drop-out rates as high as 55%, more than 99% of South Shore Drill Team members graduate with their class, and most go on to college or technical school, breaking a cycle of poverty. In addition to educational support, the team offers programs that develop leadership skills and prepare members for the work world. Over the past three decades, an estimated 5,000 young people have been part of the group. Proud alumni include teachers, police officers, entrepreneurs, business managers, people in the entertainment field, and medical professionals.
The team’s exciting performances and colorful outfits may change from year to year, but the organization’s focus never will. As Assistant Director Michael Borum says, “We’re in this to save kids’ lives.”