Be. The. Change.
For the love of drumming!
Eight months ago I stood in the 22 Ravenscroft St., the “Quest Center” (QC) as the Ananda Margiis and members of the Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation (WWD-F) call it. Began by Didi Anandausha, a woman so overflowing with love you can practically see it streaming from her ears, the foundation aims to improve the lives of women and children through community programs that include education, lifestyle training, spiritual practice, and other things.
I don’t remember why I was at the QC that day, but I began talking causally to Nicole Diiptii Hinebaugh, a saint in her own right. She said she was starting this program in Hillcrest, a low-income neighborhood in west Asheville. It would be called the Healthy Living Project (HLP) and aimed at improving the lifestyle of women and children in Hillcrest. Nicole began ratting off a list of activities, “We’re gonna have yoga, tai chi, healthy cooking classes. We’re gonna teach organic gardening. I have someone who wants to teach dancing and maybe spoken word classes.” Wow, that sounded great! See, deep down I want to enjoy life. I want to have money, travel, finish my pilot’s license, eat divine food, but that all falls under the umbrella of creating a better world.
“How about drumming?” I asked. “Wow, that would be great,” she replied as her grin widened to stretch from ear to ear, and her face lit up like the sun. “Yeah, I used to teach teenage boys in a juvenile detention center, and at a group home.” I remembered my experience at Pennsylvania Clinical Schools. Working with some of the toughest kids from inner city Philadelphia – black, poor, and convicted sex offenders – I followed my passion like a glorious fool and started teaching drumming. These guys would come in, play hip-hop beats, and think they were all that and a bag of potato chips. I’d say, “Yeah, that’s cool, but let me show you where that all comes from.” See, I’ve always had a thing for west african rhythms. It’s always done something to my soul, like light it on fire. It’s the kind of thing where if I don’t do it for a while and then I happen to hear it on youtube it hits me in the gut like a punch from God – “MY SON, YOU SHALL DO THIS.”
So, at the facility I’d teach them african rhythms – like dununba, kuku, donaba. (Actually, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I had been playing drums since fourth grade and had charts, so it worked out pretty well). The uniform response at first was, “Come on, Mr. Nick, we don’t wanna play that [explicative].” Hah. Within a couple weeks I had them asking, begging me to teach them more – “Mr. Nick, can we play that african jon again?” (Just for the record, I don’t actually know what a “jon” is. It’s like a Philly thing. I guessed it meant “thing.”) So we did, and I got smiles from some of these guys who hadn’t smiled in years. We put on monthly shows for the facility and visitors, like judges and insurance companies. We recorded cd’s. I even had a resident design the album cover in art therapy. It was awesome. I got a massive raise.
So, Nicole and I kept talking, and the conversation ended with me saying, “Yep. Let’s do it.” So I did. Actually, I am. I haul seven or so drums in my *cavernous Honda Civic every Sunday, 4:30pm, to Hillcrest, to play drums with the kids. And I don’t get paid. And I don’t care, because I love it. And you know what my favorite part it? It’s when six-year old Tashaia asks me at the end of each group, “Can I help you take the drums to your car?” To which I always reply “sure,” and then hold it up with my right hand as she “carries” it on her back.
*(PS – if you want to donate a minivan or one of those cube-like vehicles to the cause, let me know – 302-528-6025)