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Retired elementary school teacher Angela Walker didn’t always have the dream of building a non-profit. However, shortly before her retirement, multiple factors coalesced to convince her to start the Huntsville Community Drumline.
Angela’s son Frederick was a drummer himself for many years. Angela already had experience as the coordinator for her church’s drumline. However, the church drumline encouraged church membership and involvement which discouraged growth among others in the community.
The final factor that convinced Angela to start a community drumline came from the news of a 14-year-old boy named Martin Anderson who died while incarcerated at a bootcamp style detention facility. While many were bemoaning this tragic loss of such a young life and championing justice for this young man, Angela had this thought: What if he could have been saved prior to ever being sent to bootcamp?
“I asked myself, ‘Why isn’t anyone doing anything to intervene in the lives of these troubled youth to prevent tragedies like this?’ But then I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I do something?’ ” Angela said.
In 2010, with the help of her son Frederick, Angela decided to start the Huntsville Community Drumline (HCDL). HCDL provides a great FREE after-school choice other than athletics or academics for students in first through ninth grade who are interested in learning to play the drums. Angela wanted to focus on this younger age group to provide earlier intervention for children who may be at-risk.
“And with the drums, the kids are really able to beat out their negative emotions,” Angela said. “I always say, ‘These drums take quite a beating.’ ”
In starting the Huntsville Community Drumline, there were many instances along the way that required supernatural breakthroughs. It became a journey of faith as step by step she figured out how to get her organization off the ground. There were still many logistical decisions to figure out, starting with a building.
“I was able to use my savings along with the financial support of family and close friends and buy this building from the previous owner,” Angela said. “He actually financed the loan himself, and there were so many times in the beginning where I had to go to him and say, ‘Look, I’m sorry, but I can’t pay this month.’ And he would always push it back because he really believed in my vision.”
Eventually, thanks to a supportive network of influential people in the Huntsville community, HCDL began to take off.
“It’s not just about what you know; it’s also who you know that knows you and feels that you’re credible enough to back,” Angela said.
Currently HCDL comprises 30 Stickmasters and 35 Mini-masters, and the program is making a difference in the lives of these students and the community. HCDL plays upwards of 40 to 50 performances each year. Besides their physical location on Jordan Lane, HCDL has free after-school percussion programs in four different schools. The Stickmasters also have the honor of being the official drumline of the Huntsville Havoc hockey team. Angela estimates more than 1,800 students have passed through their doors.
One such student came into the program as a sixth-grader. “He had a challenging home life after experiencing the devastating loss of both his mother and his grandmother,” Angela said. “He really found a home here, and even after he graduated from the program in 9th grade, he decided to come back and volunteer.”
The young man eventually earned a spot on the snare line for Alabama A&M’s marching band with a scholarship.
“Huntsville Community Drumline was also able to give him a scholarship,” Angela said. “That was one of the proudest moments for me.”
While the work is rewarding, raising support still requires much more time and effort than one might expect.
“I spend a lot of time applying for grants and soliciting funds,” Angela said. “I would love to be able to provide more scholarships in the future. I want to make a bigger impact on as many lives as possible.”
Another vision Angela foresees in the future is transportation to take kids home after their practice.
“We already have kids dropped off by the Huntsville City school buses, but some kids can’t join because they don’t have anyone who could pick them up afterwards,” Angela said. “Having our own transportation would allow us to expand our reach to more children who would benefit from what we offer.”
Huntsville Community Drumline is funded through grants, sponsors, extensive fundraising and through the generosity of individual donors.
Angela’s mantra is this quote by Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Through her organization, many children are being poured into with love and encouragement as they grow in discipline and character. Without a doubt, the ripple effects of HCDL will reverberate through the community for generations to come.