Marching Band Founder Hopes Teens Follow In His Footsteps

Being A Role Model Is Priority For Smith

September 30, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

"No, it doesn't hurt. And it lasts five years. You should check. No,it's free. In your arm. It doesn't hurt at all. Look."

Derrick Smith pulls out a pamphlet about the birth control Norplant and shows it to the teen-ager leaning over the desk.

The young woman has complained about her diaphragm, but explainedthat she can't take birth control pills. Smith advises her not to have unprotected sex; pregnancy is the last thing she needs, he says.

This is Smith's spare time, when he does the thing that matters most to him: be a role model for black teen-agers.

"Most of the kids in the public housing are from one-parent homes, with absent fathers.And drugs are everywhere. Kids need to know there is something else in life," says Smith, a slender 26-year-old.

To that end, Smith last year formed a marching band with youngsters from the Annapolis public housing projects who'd been rejected by local bands.

Calling themselves the Blue Angels, the band has grown from six to 30 children, and from a marching unit that practices twice a week in the summersto a cohesive group of friends who meet for homework help and special outings through the winter. This year, Smith is turning the band into a Praise Choir to sing at area churches.

"It's something else to keep them together all year," he explains.

Says Camilla, a 14-year-old at Annapolis High and a band member, "I didn't have nothing else to do, and it was summertime. I saw this band practicing where I live, so I walked out there and asked if I could join."

Traveling with the band to appear at Elk parades as far away as North Carolina has been the best part of being in the group, Camilla says.

"We made it fun. On the way there we sang songs. It's kept me off the streetand stuff," she says. "And Derrick Smith, he loves children. If there's anybody who wants to join the band, he's willing to take them. Hedon't turn nobody down."

As an Outreach Specialist for the healthdepartment, Smith works with a program called Healthy Teens and Young Adults. He teaches about abstinence, but also about teen pregnancy and prevention. He also coaches women's volleyball at Annapolis Junior High.

Those are his official jobs. But his real job, Smith says,is living a good life in front of teen-agers who could use some guidance.

"The kids say, 'Big Rick, you always goin' to church,' " says Smith, who is minister of music at the Jesus Saves Family Ministry,a nondenominational Pentecostal church on Parole Street.

He smiles. "It's funny, but in a way it's good. Kids will look at what you do. I hope they'll say, 'Something about this church makes him want to go.' You don't have to preach at them."

Smith, who also is training to be a deacon, will use a casual meeting with an Annapolis teen-ager to hold an impromptu discussion about Norplant. Or he'll tutor band members in his home with the help of his wife, Chevelle.

"I do Social Studies. She's the math person," he says.

In trying to be a father, brother and general role model to the youngsters, Smith, who has two young daughters, does sometimes hand out advice.

"I tell parents they need to be role models first. How many of these kids are going to be Michael Jordans? They need somebody to look up to at home."

He tells students their homework should get priority. "Behind everything you do, there's a consequence," Smith repeats. "You sell drugs, you pay a consequence. You have sex, you hook classes in school -- nothing is free."

Except, maybe, acceptance. Many of the youngsters who joined the Blue Angels had been rejected by other local bands either because of discipline problems or lack of talent, Smith says. In this group, they are welcome.

Twice a week, the band practices at the American Legion hall on Forest Drive, drilling and turning and marching, sometimes in uniforms they've sewed themselves.

For Sherita Naylor, who had rarely been out of Annapolis until she joined the Blue Angels, the group has meant a ticket to adventure.

"We get to leave Annapolis," says the 13-year-old with awe. "We get out of Annapolis. And we have fun. I get help with my homework. Last year, we had a fashion show. It gives you something fun to do."

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