Two dozen young musicians and dancers stood perfectly still on a recent summer day, their eyes to the ground onstage at North Community High School.
Dancers in white shirts kept their hands on their hips and one heel raised above the floor. Trombonists rested the slides of their instruments on the stage. Flutists and drummers held their instruments low and ready to play.
One dawdling dancer raced down the aisle of the auditorium, the strap of her overall dangling over her shoulder, hopping onto the stage and into position.
"Hurry up, you're late," said Deondré Carter, the drumline instructor.
He offered feedback to some of the students: "Shouldn't be moving, Larry. Have some distance."
Then, Arthur Turner III, one of the camp leaders asked the band: "Y'all ready?".
"Yes!" the kids said in chorus.
It was the last day of the two-week Northside United Summer Band Camp. About 30 students were rehearsing for an upcoming performance. Some had danced or played an instrument before; some had not. They came to learn how to perform in a "show style" marching band — the high-stepping, high-energy style that is traditional at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Minnesota kids often do not have access to this tradition because the state is not home to any HBCUs, the band's directors told Sahan Journal. So a Minnesota trio of graduates from those schools organized a summer program to introduce local kids to show-style marching band, spark a lifelong enthusiasm for the arts, and show them a path to college.
The program was founded in the summer of 2021 by a North Community High School music teacher. It's the result of a collaboration between staff at North Community High and LoveWorks Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. Registration is free. Instruments are provided. So is lunch.
The camp is open to 5th to 12th grade students across the Twin Cities. For two weeks in the summer, students spend their days playing an instrument, dancing and learning discipline. At the end, they invite their families and neighbors to cheer them on as they perform on the North High stage.
"We hope that we're igniting the fire that will give them a tool to be able to take their lives from where they currently are to wherever they want to go," Turner said.
He grew up in Norfolk, Va., minutes away from Norfolk State University. "I could hear them, growing up: the band, the drumline," he said. "It was a big thing to be a part of band."
Now, Turner is the executive director of LoveWorks Academy, a charter school that serves predominantly Black students in kindergarten through 8th grade.
"How do you get kids excited about something they've never seen in person?" he asked. "It's hard."
D'Shonte Carter, now 25, participated in band and drumline when she was a student at LoveWorks Academy. In eighth grade, Turner, then her music teacher, introduced her to bands in the style of HBCUs. She recalled a field trip to Virginia, where she saw this performance style in person for the first time.
Finally seeing a live show, after learning from videos, was "like a dream come true," she said.
She attended Virginia State University, where she met her husband, Deondré. After college, the two moved back to Minnesota. Now, D'Shonte Carter is the school's music teacher — and the summer camp's band director. Deondré Carter is the camp's drumline instructor, as well as a paraprofessional and marketing manager for LoveWorks Academy.
The Carters and Turner believe they are the only graduates of HBCUs trained in show-style band in Minnesota.
This summer marked the second year of the Northside United Summer Band camp. Enrollment grew from 13 last year to 32 this year.
Over the past two weeks, many of the students learned to play an instrument they hadn't played before. They improved their techniques and learned to play with a full band. And they practiced discipline; the instructors make them run or do push-ups if they are not following directions.
Fourteen-year-old Terriana Carter-Ricks, a dancer who will be starting at North Community High School in the fall, appreciates the camp's rigor.
"I like that they push us more," she said.
DJ Gipson, a 16-year-old student at Maple Grove High School, does not formally belong to his school band, although he enjoys drumming in the music room after school sometimes. It was not his choice to come to camp.
"My mom forced me to," he said.
In the end, it was a good decision, he concluded: "I would have just been outside right now, doing nothing."
Part of the camp's appeal is simple: it's something to do. While piano or karate lessons with private teachers are common in affluent communities, Turner points out, most of his students' parents can't afford those.
Turner wants students to see band as a potential path to scholarships, college and careers.
"Kids fall in love with sports because you hear about the million-dollar contracts. They don't realize that you can be a principal musician for the orchestra and make pretty good money," Turner said.
D'Shonte Carter noted that arts classes frequently suffer when schools cut budgets. She hopes that the performance can inspire better funding of the arts so students can stay engaged year-round.
The students "learn this for two weeks, and then in reality they don't continue to learn during the school year," she said. "And there's obviously a thirst for that. They want to do this. So do families. So my hope is that we as a state, and as this city, continue to provide these opportunities to students."
Toward the end of the final rehearsal, D'Shonte Carter called the students together.
"All right, everybody. That was 70 percent. Our goal is 100," she said. "We need everybody at 100 percent throughout the whole entire show. Make your last time your best time."
This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota's immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for its free newsletter to receive stories in your inbox.