Hartford's Proud Drill Drum and Dance Corp is all about the beat — and the kids playing it
Watching a performance by Hartford's Proud Drill Drum and Dance Corp, it's pretty obvious where they got the name.
Beating drums, dancing feet and smiling faces blend together in a rhythmic pulse that's as much about the music as it is the lives of the kids playing it.
“You know, the name is Hartford’s Proud. I am proud,” Terry Starks, co-founder of the group, said as she stood in the crowd and glanced over at the kids — her kids.
"I know they are proud to be from Hartford," she said. "They are a product of this community."
In 2012, Starks was conducting a survey about community needs. She found there was a need for kids to have more activities and more places for them to go apart from home and school.
And then came the idea that started the whole program. She came across a group of kids playing drums next to their school. At the same time, Starks said, she noticed police on the same block, searching for suspects in a recent shooting.
It was time to act.
“I'm like, 'Oh my God, those kids.' I went back, got them kids, put them in my truck and brought them to my house. Got them some hot dogs, and they ain’t been nowhere ever since,” Starks said.
More than a decade later, Hartford’s Proud is a haven for many more children.
“I don't have a background in dance," Starks said. "My husband doesn't have a background in drumming. We just know that the kids just keep coming.”
Starks and her husband, Duffy Starks, started by learning on the go, piecing together their own personality with whatever help they could get to create a one-of-a-kind show.
Mostly, they're teaching kids the little things, Terry Starks said, like how to be in a formation and move with a bigger group. She says kids also learn how to work as a team, which has a positive impact on their behavior.
Officially, the group is open to people ages 5to 24, but the kids never really leave. They come drop back in, teach others and tell the Starks what their lives are like now.
But it's not all roses. Kids are kids. And teenagers, well. You know.
“They get on my nerves sometimes,” Terry said, noting phone calls she's received at 4 a.m. with kids asking about the next performance. “Why are you not sleeping?" she said.
Or other all-hours calls she gets from kids telling her they are just thinking about her.
"Like, all right, but can you think about me during the day?” she joked.
But it's that shared enthusiasm and commitment that carries through to their performances.
“The past year has been like a dream,” said Nazir McElroy, a bass drum player.
He recalled evenings at the studio, his teammates, and the drive he has to be better and learn more.
“When I get every single instrument down and stuff like that, then I'll be good,” he said.
More than 10 years later, a few kids piled into the back of a truck in Hartford has turned Starks' dream into a team with beats and moves packaged into a show that pops up across the community.
And the rhythm, she said, shows no signs of stopping.
“We can’t stop,” Starks said. “If we stop, the kids are going to stop.”