Hue-MAN Partnership and Hawthorne Neighborhood Association presented awards to members of the TKO Drumline and Knockout Dance Team on Thursday night at the Zanewood Recreation Center.
Clarence Jones, outreach director of Hue-MAN, said they decided to do the award ceremony with the neighborhood to build stronger communities. “We feel like it’s important to encourage [the kids], and as adults we have the responsibility that when they do positive things, we want to engage them,” Jones said. “We also like to recognize people in our community that are doing well.”
TKO travels to participate in competitions, having won several awards as a team in the past. Last month, TKO traveled to the Wisconsin Dells to participate in the Wo-Zha-Wa Days parade.
More than 20 plaques were given out to the team’s drummers, dancers, and parents who help with the program. Plaques were presented by Jones, drumline coach Byron Hawkins, and Diana Hawkins, Byron’s mother and TKO’s business manager.
Byron said he started working with TKO in 2011 when his eldest son Ja’Ron Ross-Hawkins, nine years old at the time, came home from school and told Byron he had joined the drumline.
“I was like, ‘What? You’re not even into drums like that,’” Byron recalled. “I bought him a drum when he was little; he was trying it out but really wasn’t into it.”
Byron went to Ja’Ron’s school and met Arthur Turner, the founder of TKO. Turner told Byron he could use help running the group, and Byron became assistant director of TKO.
When Turner moved out of the state in 2016, he asked Byron if he would take over the group. Byron has been the head of TKO ever since and coaches the drumline portion of the group, with all five of his children in the group.
Boys and girls are accepted on both the dance team and drumline. Byron said he had multiple boys on the dance team last season, and that his youngest girl drummer was only seven years old. The group originally accepted kids eight and older, but Byron reduced the cutoff to five and older. When TKO members turn 18, they help teach younger kids.
“When you turn 18 you become an assistant leader. That is more of you becoming a junior instructor,” Byron said. “The kids, ages 18 to 21, they’re the people that I lean on to help be the leaders, the ‘junior mes’ as I put it.
“I know I can’t be in all places at all times—they’re always there to help me out. And [the team’s] wonderful parents. This is probably the best support system I’ve had since we started, and it’s showing.”
Byron has all TKO members go through a technique class where they learn how to hold sticks and play simple rudiments and patterns. Younger kids are given sticks and play along with older kids until they start to develop a rhythm.
“Once they start to feel the rhythm, learn the rhythm, they automatically play it without us even having to teach them,” Byron said. “Once they’re eager to do that, then they’ll start to learn because they want to know how to play those certain beats that the older kids are playing.”
Taylor Britt coaches the dance side of TKO. Britt had her own dance team before moving to TKO last year. She said that she has already seen growth in her team, both in dance talent and in leadership skills. Britt noted that she has seen many of her pupils get over their fear of performing in front of other people, and that they have gained confidence in general.
“They all have come out shining,” Britt said.
Diana has seven grandchildren in TKO. She does the booking of performances and bookkeeping because she believes the group is a good way to keep kids on the right track.
“I just want to make sure that all our youth stay away from drugs, and make sure [they] get a mentor, big brother or big sister, stay in school, and get a good education,” Diana said.
Anaya Nelson, also known as “Dots” within the group, is one of the dance team’s leaders. Nelson said that both the dance team and drumline team create their own performances from scratch without guidance from the adults.
“Our girls make up dances, we talk about it, we go home and pick a song, we practice and record and send it to the group chat,” Nelson said. “Sometimes we dance with the drums, sometimes we dance majorette songs, hip hop songs, slow songs, it just depends on the genre of dance that we’re doing.”
Symone Hawkins, 12, is on the dance team with Nelson and said TKO has helped her learn “rhythm, discipline and teamwork.” Her favorite part of TKO is getting to dance with the friends she met through the program.