“Do your job. Don’t depend on someone else to do it. You need to dedicate yourself to what you want to be. Practice and take pride in yourself. Love what you do and be great at it. Mardi Gras season is here and you have to show up and show out.”
This is from a pep talk LaDerrel Bell gave her Magnolia Breeze Band of 36 kids, ages 5 through 18. Half of them have disabilities from ranging from ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia and autism to MS and cerebral palsy. They march in many parades and events throughout the year.
“The band started when I was volunteering with a group in Plateau. Destiny is a little girl in a wheelchair and the director told her that if she couldn’t walk unassisted, then she couldn’t be in the band. Her mom pulled her out and several people quit to protest. They asked me to start another band. We started out with just drums because I was a drummer at Murphy High School and that was the only instrument I knew. Some of the other kids wanted to play horns and I am learning how to play a few of those instruments so I can teach them. If a kid has the heart and the drive, I am going to do my best to provide what they need.
To these kids, band is their job. We practice twice a week and they know they have to get here on time. This is their escape and it takes their mind off things at home. They come from tough neighborhoods and some are dealing with death, homelessness, or living without power or food. I see their potential and want so much for them. My mom kept us involved in positive activities and I want to flood their lives with positive experiences. I tell them they don’t have to live that way and they can use band as a motivation to finish school and have a career. No matter what goes on, they come in here smiling and it is a complete transformation. You would never know what is going on in their lives.
Destiny is the reason we started this band in 2011. She has cerebral palsy. She had braces on her legs and trouble walking. Before a parade, someone broke into her mom’s car and stole her wheelchair and her brother’s drum. She walked that whole parade unassisted because she didn’t want to be left out. She is amazing. She knows her stuff and can play every drum and every part correctly. I tell the others they need to look up to her and they all look out for her. She is the motivation for this band and for me to keep going.
I work 40 hours as Recreation Specialist for the City of Mobile creating events and activities for people with special needs, but I put in so much extra time with this band and getting the kids some of the things they need. Instruments have been donated by family members and I have gotten drum sets from pawn shops. They want to look like a real band, so I once used my tax refund to buy drums that look more like marching drums. Every time we add a little more, their performance improves. We just used a grant from Walmart to buy pieces of uniforms and we borrowed hats from a band that no longer exists for the Mardi Gras parades. It changed their demeanor and everyone is giving 110 percent. It sounds like a simple thing, but they rise up to the image. I have been proud of them and we are giving them a skate party.
We are getting pieces here and there, but we need more uniforms, drums, trumpets and trombones. Two kids are begging for sousaphones. I don’t know where to go and get more support, but if I knew who to ask, I would ask them.
Transportation is also a problem because some of these families don’t have cars and use the bus. I pick kids up from school and take them home. I know these kids. I know the triggers that set them off and how to deal with them if they are set off. I set goals for them that are just for paying attention and taking steps to overcome their challenges. Learning to play an instrument is a bonus. We also have parents who help control the chaos and treat all of these kids like family. I couldn’t do this without them.
I got into working with people with special needs because my mom was a special education teacher at Augusta Evans School. She made us volunteer at the Special Olympics when we were kids and I now coach a Special Olympics basketball team. This year we are going to nationals in Seattle. It is good that the city provides therapeutic recreation. So many programs have been eliminated with budget cuts but I hope we can keep this going. The community plays a big role in this. We have to take care of each other.”