In celebrating Black History Month, we honor the achievements and richness of the Black experience and recognize storied leaders and legends in the cause for freedom and equality that have shaped our world and will continue to do so.
Innovators like those, in every field and art form, imagine and create a better world than the one they were born into. We owe their vision and resolve more than words can give meaning, and look to our youth to continue to be the inspiration and hope for a future that represents all of us.
Here are some perspectives from our members:
Being involved in this activity as a person of color, especially being black, has shaped my perspective on art as a whole. As a young performer, I didn't realize how little representation there is for people that look like me. As I grew an even greater awareness of the importance of having someone to look up to with your skin color and a similar background. Art is often put on the back burner for most minority groups, and to be able to share my perspective as an African American person at the highest level of the activity is an opportunity I don't take lightly. It's so important for young black kids to know that there is space for them in this activity and that their voices and talents are just as needed. They have a right to know that they, too, can be the star performers that everyone looks up to and should be given every chance to do so.
Being in a circuit like SAPA, where there are so many children of color from so many different groups, it's humbling to be a first-hand example of what they could be and what they can accomplish.
- Kris Harris, 2017-2023
When I first joined color guard, I was invited by a dear friend of mine just for fun. I quickly fell in love with the activity. Despite the nature of this activity, I am blessed to have spun with an alma mater that was very diverse. I was surrounded by staff and team members who further supported me, furthering my color guard career in drum corps and independent winter guard endeavors. After I graduated, I joined teams outside of my home circuit. I found myself surrounded by many performers who didn't look like me. I never quite understood how devastating that can be to a performer. Though all my teammates and staff made me feel like I belonged, it was always a component of my color guard journey. I take pride in the power I have to inspire other black girls and black performers to pursue their dreams. Paramount has been a dream of mine since I first watched a youtube video of 'Architextures.' My younger self would be so proud to see the growth.
I am honored to be a part of such a monumental moment for the organization. The best part of this season is the team. Everyone is so welcoming, and the diversity here at Paramount is very comforting. I am so ready to make history with this iconic production.
- Keke Tendall, 2023
As a young black person, color guard had been the only way I knew how to express myself fully. I didn't know how to manage the troubling things I was going through, but I knew that putting my energy into doing something I love made everything more manageable. Color guard found me and taught me to love myself.
I want that for every performer out there. I remember watching Paramount in high school and being so excited to see people who looked like me on the floor. I can only hope to inspire other people the way that I have been inspired by performers of color that I have seen over the years.
- Kayla Beaman, 2021-2023
I was first introduced to color guard in middle school. I found the activity intriguing but was anxious to ask additional questions and join the team. Two potent barriers in pausing my curiosity were the scarcity of gender and race diversity on the team. My curiosity peaked again during my sophomore year of high school. Although I was still hesitant, I finally decided to embark on this journey in high school and audition due to the overwhelming representation of the diversity of a team that demographics were predominantly black/ brown students and staff. Once I got on the team, my curiosity about the world of color guard increased tremendously. I was influenced throughout high school by watching groups and individuals within groups, which inspired me to continue in this sport today. However, as I grew more into this sport, I questioned the lack of black members and staff in other groups and the impact that my high school teammates and staff had on me resulting in my continuation of the color guard. Representation is important. Showing the younger generation that upcoming black and brown members and staff can participate and achieve goals in this sport is a rationale for me to continue.
I want to be there for those like me so I can pay it forward, as Clement Vassell, Jarrod Frazier, and Marcus Rankin coached, mentored, and guided me all these years. These individuals pushed me to be my best in my younger years; I wouldn't be nearly as successful as I am now.
- Chad Neely, 2023
I absolutely loved it when I first experienced what it was like to be in this activity. The care, love, passion, and art make every single season so much more worth it to keep going and strive for greatness. Spinning in high school was such a fun time, and I wouldn't change the experience for the world. I always felt inspired spinning along with people who looked like me because we never saw that when going to competitions, and it's important to young adults that they know there should be even more diversity in this activity. After Covid-19 hit, I felt as if I had lost everything since it was also my senior year of high school. It made it so much harder to keep going. But I was searching for something that would make me feel as whole and happy as my high school color guard experience. Which is why I chose Paramount. Since 2016 I've watched so many people of color at Paramount that have truly inspired me, and I think that it's very important to be that inspiration for other young minorities that are in love with the art of color guard.
This is why I do this. This is why I put in so much work, so that young black boys and young black girls are inspired to shoot for the stars so that we can garner more representation.
- Rashad Gee, 2022 - 2023
It was hard for me as a younger performer not to see many people like me in the activity. I thought I wouldn't be able to be where I am today because of my skin color. But it makes me feel good because now I'm about to give back and be a role model for young black performers. What I like the most about being in Paramount as a black performer is that everyone is so warm and welcoming. It's how they don't look at your talents and skin color. Instead, they make me feel important, just like everyone on this team.
I love the sense of community in the organization that pushes and challenges me to be the best I can be on and off the floor. The support is like no other I can ever imagine, and I'm very grateful to be a part of something much greater than me.
- Trey Gardner, 2022 - 2023
When joining this activity in 2018-2019, I wondered what being in one of those world-class groups was like. Starting in IRA class, I always looked up to my past instructor Shawn Smith for inspiration. It's not often that you find black/ African American men directing their own groups with the support of the members of their guards. But, just by starting his group, this man inspired me to pursue a career in this activity and go on to march other organizations. I believe it's important for young black kids, like my prior self when marching for Shawn, to see people like them in the activity. One of my past instructors, who happened to be a black woman, always told me to believe in myself. I never knew that statement would get me further than I expected it to. So to the younger performers in this activity, it's important that you stand for yourself and believe in yourself. Later, pushing for greatness, I decided to slowly climb up the ladder, eventually leading me to audition for the 2023 season with Paramount. It amazed me when I saw the number of talented individuals and representation in one room. I had never experienced this before, and it was so eye-opening. I was finally home.
It felt good to be in a place where everyone is there to do what they love with the people they love. I do have to admit I started this season very quiet and reserved. However, it didn't take long for me to open up. It's as if I have a new family.
- Gary Christian, 2023
I've done color guard since junior year of high school, and going to a predominantly white high school, I did not see many black people doing guard. It wasn't until I watched other groups at my first SAPA Championships that I saw more than one or two black people on a team. I learned there was very little representation of black people in this activity. Only when I got to Georgia State was I on a highly diverse guard, and all of us benefited from it. I got to meet people from all over Georgia and learn about so many different backgrounds. I was and still am VERY grateful for my experience there! I remember being told at my first drum corps audition that I had to strive to be the best in the room because I'd only be compared to the other black people in the room, and that's when I realized that we still had a long way to go. I'm grateful to Paramount and Georgia State for pushing to give equal opportunities to all. All cultures and backgrounds have so many things to bring to this activity, and it's so important for everyone in this sport to experience meeting different people to understand that not everyone is born with a fair advantage. It's also important for staff to be diverse because everyone has something new to offer. It can be encouraging for a young person of color to have someone to look up to that looks like them. When I got to Georgia State, I had my first black instructor. I have never felt more comfortable and represented in a room before. I'm very excited for the opportunity to talk about this because so many people of color have different experiences in this activity, and everyone should speak about their stories, good or bad.
Being informed is the first step to making a change! I can't wait to see the future of this activity and am excited for the rest of this season with Paramount!