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Chicago Sun-TimesDecember 19, 2012

South Shore Drill Team takes national stage at inaugural parade

BY MARY MITCHELL This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. December 19, 2012 7:30PM

The South Shore Drill Team has long represented the South Side at festive events, most notably at the annual Bud Billiken Parade.

But on Jan. 21, the 32-year-old drill team will represent the City of Chicago when members march in the inaugural parade for President Barack Obama.

“It is an honor,” exclaimed 15-year-old Raeven Funnye on Wednesday, one day after the announcement that the team would be among 24 groups chosen to participate in the historic event. “I feel privileged to be a part of it.”

The team was passed over four years ago but made the cut this year after an arduous application process in which the team had to demonstrate it had raised its national profile.

It had.

The drill team performed for first lady Michelle Obama and foreign dignitaries during the NATO Summit last May, and was the subject of a mini-documentary broadcast on PBS.

Stella Natufe-Smith, the group’s event planner and a former participant, got the call from the inaugural committee at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday via voicemail.

“I listened to it three times because I thought I was hearing things,” she said.

“This is so important because every day that I can remember since the summer, it’s been this child has been shot or that child has been shot,” she added.

“In fact, we lost one of our members to violence in October. This is something that has brought some sunshine to the organization.”

On Oct. 8, 2012, Jonathan Williams, 17, was fatally shot a short distance from the ultramodern “Gary Comer Youth Center: Home of the South Shore Drill Team,” where drill members practice and perform routines.

On Wednesday afternoon, several TV camera crews were parked outside that building, setting up for interviews about the drill team’s national honor.

For the people who have labored throughout the years to give young people on the South Side an alternative to gangs and crime, the sight was exhilarating.

“This puts a positive light on the City of Chicago,” noted Natufe-Smith.