In search of a hero, CNN finds Camden’s Tawanda Jones
All year, we were very excited about Camden Sophisticated Sisters and their director Tawanda Jones.
Recently, my next door neighbor reminded me: "Don't forget to vote!" I knew that the general elections were coming up for mayor of Camden and for governor of New Jersey. It was something I'd been anticipating for a long time. At first I couldn't understand why she would be saying this when there were a few more weeks before Nov. 5.
But it didn't have anything to do with the upcoming general elections. Her comment to me was about the 2013 Top 10 CNN Heroes. Our very own Tawanda Jones of Camden is in the running.
Everyone loves competition. It is what makes our country great. To be perfectly honest, Jones is in good company, competing against nine other individuals from other social and community service organizations for the $250,000 grand prize.
Her work in the city is remarkable. Her ability to turn young girls into dynamic performers is unbelievable. This year has been fantastic for the self-proclaimed drill team. They have had phenomenal performance engagements. Their stellar performance on "Dancing with the Stars" was energetic and mesmerizing. I truly was stunned to see them perform on "Good Morning America," too. I watched them march in the Philadelphia Independence Day Parade. I also watched them strut down the boardwalk in Atlantic City for the Miss America, Show Us Your Shoes Parade.
Right now, besides being in the company of the young ladies and gentleman who make up Camden Sophisticated Sisters and their Distinguished Brothers, Ms. Jones is in the company of her very own peers as a competitor for CNN Hero of the Year. She is the drill master of the country's best drill team.
Imitation and competition
One summer evening, leaving my mother's house in the Parkside section of Camden, I turned on Belleview Ave. from Park Blvd., and I saw about five little kids. They were boys and girls, ages ranging from four to seven, standing in a straight line. They had formulated a drill team by themselves.
One of the little kids was acting as the drill team captain. She shouted out to the young drill members, "Who do we hate?"
Those young members shouted, "CSS!"
I just couldn't believe it. Watching that whole incident for just a few short seconds, blew me away. First of all, that young group had to have been in awe of the Camden Sophisticated Sisters to have made that chant part of their drills. For some particular reason, they were quite upset with the grandeur constantly displayed by CSS.
I work in a middle school with girls 10 to 14 years old. Many of the of the young ladies I talk to tell me they are perfectly aware of Tawanda Jones and her drill team. Some were past members. Many tell me that they would like to join CSS.
I asked one of the students why she wasn't a member of CSS. She responded to me honestly and said, "I don't have the grades."
I told her she can do better in school to get the grades to eventually join the highly reputable drill team.
The young girl said to me, "OK." I was proud of her response.
For both girls and boys, joining the local drill team is the initial step to a performance career. Everyone enjoys a good marching unit. But the high-stepping, unison-stomping, rhythmic beats of hand-slapping and body-tapping makes Tawanda Jones' CSS organization so unique.
Wayne Williams lives in Camden, N.J., and teaches at Riletta Twyne Cream School.
"CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute" airs on CNN on Dec. 1, 8 p.m.