New band uniforms are more than a fashion statement: (Sorta) supporting Randall Woodfin’s latest proposal

Huffman HS band
Birmingham's Huffman High School Marching Band [Photo Credit: Youtube]

It’s not a secret, I’m not the biggest Randall Woodfin fan. I could stand for him injecting more substance and less flash into his day-to-day activities: concentrating on say tackling crime rather than smiling for magazine covers, or working on bringing our ever fragmented city together instead of focusing on his political future and that of his party with the launching his own PAC.

Those complaints aside, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge my support of one of his latest proposals: new band uniforms for Birmingham’s public high schools with a catch – of course. I wish rather than using tax payer money, which is better suited for essentials in education, healthcare and crime fighting, he’d have used his “rockstar” charisma to ask that the major corporations and foundations in the city and region donate the money for the uniforms. There’s no reason not to look towards companies to sponsor the marching bands of the seven Birmingham public high schools.

If Woodfin can solicit money for his PAC, why not solicit money for band uniforms?

If you’re not familiar with his proposal you can find more here, Woodfin announced on Monday he has asked the City Council for new band uniforms for all seven Birmingham public high schools. I have seen some publicly criticize this as a waste of money, I don’t think it’s a waste of money. I just believe different money should be spent. Uniforms and marching bands are a positive investment for our cities youth many of whom live in areas of the city where poverty and violence is the norm and discipline and team building would be a positive and welcome part of their lives.
The benefits to students of marching band’s have been researched for years, formally and informally, and the results speak for themselves. Among the documented benefits to students who participate in high school marching bands are: health related, with one study showing that “marching band as physically demanding as competitive sports,” then there’s discipline, the ability to multi-task, confidence and teamwork which are among the 18 lessons that one self-described “Music mom” touts about having a child in the marching band.
NPR did a story in 2014 documenting how the marching band is a lifeline to high school students living in poverty in New Orleans. The story explains, “Music isn’t just a part of the local culture; it’s a lifeline for kids trying to survive poverty, crime and urban neglect. Across New Orleans, every afternoon, marching bands save lives. They keep kids off the street, give them a reason to come to school, and even get them into college — if they nail their auditions come winter and spring.”
A San Francisco Chronicle story highlights the difference between well-funded programs and those of public schools, particularly the schools where poverty is rampant among students. The story highlights the differences and similarities in programs with Homestead High Music Director John Burn saying “It gives the struggling kids a reason and motivation to show up to school when they might blow it off, and it gives the high-achieving kids, well, it separates them from other high-achieving kids.” Burn donated his high schools old uniforms to another public school in the area and has been a strong advocate of improving the gap and access to band resources regardless of school circumstances.
The stories continue across the nation and across the spectrum of financial investment, but they all say the same thing: the benefits of investing in the marching band programs for high school students are worth the costs. While it would impossible to do a side-by-side of the price-tag of the uniforms vs. the results of the investments, anecdotally there’s no comparison. This is one of those programs that should easily be able to be sold in a business-friendly and philanthropic community such as Birmingham.
The sentiment is a good one: let’s reach the youth of the city before it’s too late. Let’s send a message that regardless of where you in live in our community your neighbors care about your personal and academic success. Let’s give these students something to be proud of. I encourage the city to do more to facilitate the success, both academic and extra-curricular, of youth in our community, but I caution against going at it alone.