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Memphis drumline ‘putting on for their city’ in a battle with ‘The ATL’

The Memphis Youth Arts Initiative (MYAI) stages performances from a young, soulful drumline that moves crowds. 

Stick-twirling, rhythm-driven drummers with majorettes and dance teams are a local favorite. They have been seen in local parades, school functions and special events around the city.

On Saturday (Aug. 14) in Indianapolis just two years from the date of its inception, the performing arts organization will make history on the 50-yard line of Lucas Oil Stadium, the state-of-the-arts home of the Indianapolis Colts.

The premiere Drumline Battle event is hosted by Drum Corps International (DCI). The battle against the Atlanta Drum Academy is anticipated to be like a scene straight out of the “Drumline” movie series. A huge trophy and bragging rights are the coveted prizes for the winning team.

The event is a culminating highlight of the Drum Corps International Celebration Events, an annual gathering of drumming enthusiasts.

The competition will be the first DrumLine Battle ever hosted on the final night of the DCI season, and the first sanctioned contest, featuring competitive youth percussion ensembles, according to DCI principals.

Two years after its inception, the Memphis Youth Arts Initiative (MYAI) will step onto Lucas Oil Stadium to battle the Atlanta Drum Academy. (Courtesy photo)

Adam Suell, 17, a senior at Overton High School, will be representing Memphis on Saturday. 

“We’re not just here practicing every day and working hard for nothing,” said Suell. “We’ll be there putting on for our city. We’re going there to win. Grind City all day.”

MYAI Founder Corey Travis said DCI watched the videos of the drumline performing and contacted him.

 “This is for us a dream come true,” said Travis. “There, in that stadium, 50,000 people will watch and there will be a jumbotron to watch. 

“Our children are so excited, but we’re still trying to raise enough money for our trip. We leave this Thursday.”

Travis has been working and personally funding the organization since its inception.

 “All young people need something to do,” said Travis. “I wanted to have a place for young people, where they could come and really pursue their dreams. The practice and discipline help to build consistency and stronger character traits. Only 10 percent of the children we work with can afford to travel as we do.”

The other 50-60 children have to be supported financially, Travis said. But he is encouraged by the improvement in behavior and relationships with parents, siblings, other participants and classmates.

 “We practice outside in a parking lot because of the space and safety concerns,” said Travis. “Many of our children have suffered some form of trauma, and the living situation may not be ideal at home. 

“But they look to us for guidance, mentoring, instruction and structure. We are building a family here, and we have witnessed so much improvement from so many.”

James Crutcher, 14, has been with MYAI for about one year.

“I am in the ninth grade at Wooddale High School,” said Crutcher. “I play basketball, but I love drumline, too. I used to be so angry. This program has given me so much. 

“We’re bringing that trophy back home to Memphis. We’re going to win.”

Jaquirious Burkins, 13, is an eighth-grader at Bellevue Middle School. He has worked on the drumline before the organization was founded in 2019.

“I used to get in trouble a lot at school and at home,” said Burkins. “Memphis Youth Arts Initiative helps me stay active, positive, and it gives me something to do after school. It keeps me off the streets.”

Travis said the financial hardship has been worth the reward.

“We invest in the children who need us the most,” said Travis. “MYAI is structured to encourage a future in college, a plan to success, or an opportunity to discover where their life’s dreams can take them.”

(To make a donation for this week’s trip to Indianapolis, go to: https://www.memphisyoutharts.org/.)

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