Life Lessons: Marching to a successful beat

Posted: 5:00 AM EDT Oct 04, 2013

There are 25,000 gangs in the United States, and one million gang members. Some of the most targeted teens are at-risk, minority, inner-city kids.

One woman is facing these gangs head on, using music to teach kids discipline, confidence, and sophistication.

There's a sight of cadets marching in line to the beat of marching drums. It seems like practice for a marching band; but it's not.

These cadets are marching to a completely different tune than the one arranged for them by their situation. Nearby tough streets where these kids live are filled with gangs, guns, and drugs.

These cadets are some of the over 200 members on the roster of Camden, New Jersey's Sophisticated Sisters and Distinguished Gentlemen Drill Team.

And they are proving to be true soldiers of valor.

"I've only been the best secret in Camden for 27 years," says Tawanda Jones, co-founder of the group.

Jones has brought that secret to light, practicing in an abandoned water tower and traveling with other drill teams across the nation.

And proof of the group's success is in the numbers.

In a city recently labeled one of the poorest and most violent nationwide, the Sophisticated Ladies have a 100 percent graduation rate.

"You've got to open yourself up to new things, you understand?" Jones told her cadets during a recent practice.

From tots to teens, and to even college graduates, the goal is to represent their home in a positive way and show other kids a way out.

They even made it on to "Dancing with the Stars."

"We have a lot of talented kids; we have parents that care," Jones said. "I just want a huge safe haven for these babies so they can have a place to call home, and not worry about bullets flying here and there. A place where they can just be free."

Even though Jones sees firsthand the impact of music on her kids, science is backing it up.

A 10-year study out of UCLA showed music-making improves test scores and reading proficiency.

The drill team gets all its money from donations.