Tawanda Jones Empowers Camden Youth Through Drill Team
As part of NJTV’s "In Your Neighborhood" series from Camden, NJ, Steve Adubato goes one-on-one with Tawanda Jones, Co-Founder of the Camden Sophisticated Sisters, a dance, drum and step drill team that has become a creative outlet for thousands of children in the city.
"Welcome back to One on One. It is our pleasure to welcome Tawanda Jones, who is the cofounder of a terrific organization here in Camden. Thank you. It is called Camden Sophisticated Sisters. What a great name! And you came up with that? Yes sir, I did. [laughter] How so? Well, Camden Sophisticated Sisters kinda... the whole word "sophisticated" stuck with me because of my grandmother. She was very articulate. She always believed that young ladies should sit up and have posture, and being sophisticated was her thing. So it kinda like stuck in my head. So it just seemed like the perfect name to name the organization at the time. What does it do? Oh my God? What don't they do? [laughter] It's performing arts. They don't just dance. Oh my God. They dance their pain away. They sing. They act. They have to do volunteer hours. They have to do 200 hours of volunteer hours. So it's a community based organization. And we welcome the youth. We welcome adults. It's just one big community inside of the neighborhood center. 4,000 children have successfully... successfully come through the program. 100 percent graduation rate. 90 percent of team members attend higher education institutions. Amazing. How does that happen? It takes... I would be crazy to say, you know, I did this by myself. No successful organization is ran by one person. But it takes a collective effort. It takes community, parents, teachers, everyone involved, just to stay on track with these young people. See, we just don't do drill team inside of one place. You know. We have to make sure that we're interacting with them at their homes, inside the schools. I love doing pop up visits at the schools you know, just... Pop up? Pop up visits. Describe that. Pop up visits... if you have a kid that, you know, they're part of the organization, and they're having, like, a rough week, you know, I'll get that phone call from the teacher up, "I know they're a part of your organization. Behavior wise, we're having a little difficult time." We're on our way. You pop up? We pop up. I pop up. The parents pop up. We have a little volunteer group that loves to do the little pop up thing, so... and the kids shape up. They just want to know... they love structure, they love discipline. Kids want to know that you're gonna be there. I gotta tell you, when I first heard about you, first in 2013, the great folks at CNN recognized your organization as one of the top ten heroes of that year. Also, in 2014, I met you. The Russell Berrie Foundation..."