Black Nonprofit Spotlight: Shark City Drum and Dance Corp
As a part of our commitment to racial equity, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation highlights nonprofits led by Black people in order to show and support their work. According to national studies, Black-led nonprofits don't always get the same level of support as their counterparts due to racially inequitable practices. We're working to change that in Hampton Roads.
Frederick Dixon, executive director of Shark City Drum and Dance Corps., shared an overview of his nonprofit's work with the community foundation.
Describe your nonprofit and mission.
Our mission is to provide students an opportunity to flourish as artists and create meaningful connections with our community. We empower and mentor students by instilling a sense of pride, responsibility, confidence, persona, higher-level thinking, and lifelong learning.
We started in 2018, helping four high school students get ready for college. We began practicing at a local high school after hours. We had no money to fix the drums and no consistent place to store them.
This was the crossroads in the organization: Do we stop doing this or do we change locations and continue?
While we were in the crossroads, the students told their school peers about the services they received, and more people became intrigued. We moved our practice to Harbor Park parking lot. And on our very first practice back, four kids turned into eight. The next week eight to 16, and the following week 16 to 25. Now we have a drumline!
What programs does your nonprofit offer?
- Shark City Drum Corps competition drumline (middle and high school students)
- Baby Sharks (elementary and primary students)
- Private School Sharks
- Senior Citizen Shark City (focusing on exercise)
- Shark City F.A.C.T. Drumline (drumline for people with autism)
- AA Drumline (Accent Anonymous, for adults who can still play and are finished with school)
Why did you launch the nonprofit?
I was a percussion instructor at Norview High School. We were able to put most of the kids in school with band scholarships. I was making a difference, but I was limited because we were only at certain schools. I was also an assistant percussion instructor at Oscar Smith. Oscar Smith did not do the competitions that Norview did, so some of the students came from Oscar Smith to Norview to practice and learn more with me. That is when I realized that I could reach more students if we began helping everybody. I teamed up with Orlando Edwards, a Booker T. Washington alumnus, and we talked with the band leadership and began working with the school and the alumni band.
Prior to that, I graduated from Norview High School class of 2005. I marched for the Norview Marching Pilots all four years and began to take a leadership role as early as 10th grade. Then tragedy came. My mother passed away unexpectedly when I was 16. This took a lot out of me. I questioned everything in my life. It was just a dark place for me mentally. The greatest human being that I ever knew was no longer around, and I was so lost. But my aunts knew that I was smart in school and could graduate early, so they filled out my application to Virginia State University. Attending VSU was one of the best things that could have happened. There, I regained my passion for drums and the value of life. I marched and played drums for the VSU Marching “Trojan Explosion” Band and was drum section leader during my last two years. In 2009, I graduated from Virginia State University with a BA in Business Management. After I graduated, I enrolled in the University of Phoenix, where I received a master’s degree in public administration. Shark City was the first public program I created.
Give an example of your nonprofit’s success and impact in the region.
In the last three years, Shark City Drum Corps has graduated about 20 students to college. Most of the students have full band scholarships to these institutions. We have members in about seven historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This year, we have our biggest graduation class to date, with several of our seniors in the top 25 percentile of their classes.
What do you believe is one of the greatest needs in Hampton Roads?
Youth in this area need more extracurricular activities to have more positive role models in our community. I share with the children my story about losing the greatest person on earth at a young age and still having to wake up every day and go to school, wash my clothes, and make sure I ate. If I didn’t wake myself up for school, I was not going. If I can make it out of that, they can, too.
The lack of activities leads to an increase in violence. Violence is the biggest problem in this area. We want to take our streets back and let the children know that guns are not the answer to the questions.
What are three ways you would the community to help your nonprofit?
Bring any young person for one day, and I guarantee that they will like the organization.
We have difficult times finding adequate practice spaces. For years we practiced outside at Harbor Park. The kids were so dedicated that they would be outside in the freezing cold just because they wanted to win a drum competition. I hate the cold, but because this is the sacrifice that they wanted, we were out there in as low as 15 degrees. After that, we moved to Rokeby Recreation Center. We outgrew the space, and we were not able to go outside and practice so as not to disturb residents. So, we moved to a church in Chesapeake.
Transportation also is an issue. It is difficult to be able to transport so many people from place to place. We rely on our parents who have been so helpful throughout the process, and I am thankful that they are in my life.
What advice would you offer to other nonprofit leaders, staff, or volunteers?
The best advice I can offer is to hold your head up. Eventually, it will work out. You have to trust the process. Through the fire, it will eventually rain. So much blood, sweat, and tears came from this, we are just now reaping the benefits. It will get hard; you will want to quit but push through. To the volunteers, I appreciate and respect you more than you even know.
Do you have any upcoming events that the community can attend or support?
We are in negotiations for a concert in Norfolk, tentatively in August 2022.
Shark City Live usually is the week before Christmas at the Kroc Center.
Learn more about Shark City Drum Corps.: