Miami-Dade County

For South Florida marching band students, music means discipline — and love

At 18, Michelir Senatus loves music so much that on most days, he’s home practicing his tuba.

But on Monday, the young man from North Miami spent the afternoon marching and dancing with about 160 other music-loving students through Miami’s Overtown neighborhood playing a mix of songs for neighbors lining the street as part of the South Florida Marching Band Precision Camp.

“Music revolves around me every day,” Senatus said. “It’s the essential thing that humans need to live.”

The walk from the Historic Lyric Theater to Gibson Park capped a weeklong band camp run through the nonprofit Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida.

It was also a statement about a new way to use city streets. Organizers hope that the middle and high school students could envision themselves marching toward a future where they find meaning in music rather than anything harmful.

For Senatus and others, it was a chance to gain more experience and learn from what organizers considered an all-star staff.

“This camp might have changed somebody’s life already,” said Melton Mustafa Jr., an instructor at the camp and a Grammy nominee who works at Florida Memorial University.

Mustafa, along with some of the camp’s other leading musicians, said he feels strongly that music has shaped his life for the better.

The camp was so popular in its first year that the director, Shelby Chipman, an associate professor of music at Florida A&M University, said he thinks enrollment will rise substantially next year.

It filled a niche not only for students in Miami-Dade, but also for musicians throughout Florida and other states. Around 50 students from San Antonio attended the week’s festivities, said Kamila Pritchett, the development and marketing coordinator for the Black Archives.

Professors from Florida colleges and band directors at local high schools led the camp. As each instructor's picture popped onto a video screen in an auditorium before the march, campers erupted in cheers.

Though many band students, like Senatus, were serious about their instruments, the group sizzled with the excitement of teenagers in July. But once they started playing the music, the group strutted down the street with swagger.

“Most of these kids are serious musicians with no place to perform,” Mustafa said.