Tawanda Jones: mother, friend and mentor to youth of Camden, N.J.
Makers.com is a joint project of PBS and AOL showcasing hundreds of compelling stories from trailblazing women. The documentary "Makers: Women Who Make America," premiering on PBS on Feb. 26 (check local listings), tells the story of the women's movement through first-hand accounts of its leaders, opponents and trailblazers.
This is one of a separate series of articles about notable women in the Philadelphia region.
I have been a member of the Camden Sophisticated Sisters (CSS) drill team, founded and coordinated by Tawanda Green-Jones (also known as Wa-Wa), since the beginning of my eighth grade school year in 2003.
Camden usually receives negative media attention because it is one of most dangerous cities in America, and too often people assume positivity within our community does not exist. Wa-Wa and her marvelous support team give many drill team sisters and The Almighty Percussion Sound (T.A.P.S.) brothers the opportunity to travel not only outside of Camden, but outside of New Jersey‚ attending parades, visiting universities and encouraging young people to attend college.
The most valuable lessons CSS instills are commitment, dedication, perseverance and discipline. Wa-Wa demonstrated to me a mother's love and played the role of friend, mentor and psychologist. Due to her essential qualities and strong disciplinarian techniques, 100 percent of the drill team sisters graduate from high school and avoid teen pregnancy.
Wa-Wa's support and love for Camden's youth have given many young women, young men, and adults the opportunity to conduct themselves confidently for 26 years. Members are required to volunteer in our community, maintain a 2.5 GPA, participate in Camden's Annual Day of Service, and provide fun activities for senior citizens.
She hosts annual fundraisers to provide scholarships to high school seniors and to assist families in financial need. Her encouraging words and her drive to better the community inspires everyone.
Individuals like Wa-Wa are catalysts for change in Camden. She provides many of our young people with resources that are not available at home or in school. Recently, one of the teenage members was shot in the face by her biological father. Wa-Wa is giving the girl's family and peers (her drill-team sisters) comfort and encouragement. She is more than a community activist; she is also a psychologist and sociologist to both adolescents and grown-ups.
The CSS drill team resonates positively within my mind, body, heart and soul. During my adolescent years, I decided to participate in the organization because it seemed interesting and entertaining, although at the time I was not conscious of this hobby becoming a way of life. The participants of this association, the Jones family and, most importantly, Wa-Wa, became a second family. Drill team practices and performances were an escape from the harsh realities of life as a teenager. Despite my love for dancing and stepping, the joy the audience received while watching us perform was reciprocal to the way I felt in the presence of greatness.
Since the 1980s, Camden has been in turmoil. Wa-Wa has dedicated her life to creating a positive atmosphere conducive to the recreation and education of Camden's youth. There are drill team participants whose fathers or mothers are incarcerated, or who fell victim to the city's high murder and crime rate. Drill team practice is the only escape the children have, and once practice begins, the youth say their problems disappear.
At the end of each practice, we recited poems. They were just poems until I became older and internalized and understood their meaning and intent. The wisdom in those poems still holds substantial value in my everyday life. My favorite was "It's a Start Without a Finish." Whenever I feel the need to quit this vigorous journey, I recite this poem and remind myself that quitting is never an option.
I recall a time when I was tempted to drop out of college in my freshmen year. The course work was extremely difficult because of the poor preparation I got in grade school. Had it not been for Wa-Wa's encouragement and kindness, I doubt I would have tapped my full potential.
As an undergraduate I went on to become a student senator and the president of several organizations. I was included in Who's Who Among America's Students, enrolled in Chi Alpha Epsilon National Honor Society, elected queen of the Ms. Black and Gold Pageant (I performed a monologue about my life that Wa-Wa wrote), and was accepted as a sister of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. Who would have believed this perceived "inferior" student had so much potential — and is presently a doctoral student pursuing her dreams of becoming a college professor? Wa-Wa is one of my greatest supporters!
Wa-Wa and CSS have helped hundreds of other children in the city of Camden. Words will never accurately articulate the profound respect, love and appreciation I have for her commitment, dedication and love for CSS. She is the light in the middle of the tunnel that provides our youth with hope for a better life. CSS is the most positive and influential organization of its kind in Camden. One day I aspire to make half of the impact on someone's life that she has made on many of ours!
Destiny Bush is a native of Camden, N.J., and a current doctoral student in the Cultural Studies and Social Thought Program in the College of Teaching and Learning at Washington State University.