South Shore Drill Team uses the performing arts to engage inner-city youth throughout their critical teenage years, mitigate the dangers of gangs, drugs, and violence, and guide members towards completing their education and becoming responsible citizens.
Founded in 1980 with a handful of neighborhood children, South Shore Drill Team now serves 300 young people ages 8-21 who perform at more than 100 events annually.
Well-known for its amazing precision drilling, the team is a favorite of parade-goers everywhere including Chicago’s Bud Billiken Back to School Parade, the third largest parade in the country.
In addition to its unique marching style, South Shore Drill Team has a wide repertoire of dance, including classical and contemporary music, gospel, hip hop, jazz, and modern dance, all part of its Performing Arts Training Program.
The organization’s purpose extends far beyond entertainment. It was begun by former Chicago Public School teacher Arthur Robertson, and its focus remains on education. All members are required to be students in good standing, and their grades are monitored. Through its Education Support Program, the team offers tutoring for those who struggle in school. Despite the fact that the majority of members come from schools where the drop-out rate is as high as 55%, the team sees 99% of its members graduate with their class – 100% in 2012-2014. Nearly all go on to college or technical school, breaking a cycle of poverty.
To counter a 93% unemployment rate for Chicago’s Black teens, the team offers an Employment Training Program, providing stipends to older youth to teach younger children under adult supervision. Through its At-Risk Youth Program, the group accepts referrals of troubled young people from Cook County Juvenile Court and CPS, diverting them from the judicial system. Additional programs include Leadership Development and Financial Assistance. Members learn about self-discipline, teamwork, and responsibility, frequently staying with the team for five to ten years.
The team won two Winter Guard International championships in 1992 and 2011. Members travelled to Africa with Sister Cities in 2005, marched in the January Presidential Inaugural Parade and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2013, and was featured in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The primary site for rehearsals and stage shows is the Gary Comer Youth Center: Home of the South Shore Drill Team built in 2006 by the Land’s End Founder who grew up in the Greater Grand Crossing Neighborhood.
The organization’s greatest resource is a staff of instructors who grew up in the community and are familiar with the issues urban teens face. They offer members a good mix of empathy combined with urging them to not let challenges bar them from success. An estimated 6,000 young people have been part of the group. Current team members reside in 36 zip codes and attend 95 schools and colleges. Team alumni include teachers, police officers, entrepreneurs and business managers, people in the entertainment field, and medical professionals. In 2015, South Shore Drill Team celebrates its 35 anniversary of helping young people build a future for themselves.