I arrived at the Willye B. White Field House at 4:30PM last Thursday, August 25th, ninety minutes before the doors were to open for the “World Premier- performance of the month old youth dance troupe called 808s: Youth Empowerment thru Dance. Doors were to open at 6:00PM; two introductory performances to begin at 6:30PM; and the 808s group to dance at 7:00.

As I entered the gymnasium, the field house staff and a few of the 808s dancers started wheeling in chairs and setting them up. I was impressed at how many folding chairs that field house owned - they must have over 100. I cringed at the thought that they were going to set them all up.

Shaking my head, I started wondering how embarrassing it would be for the kids if they ended up performing in front of so many empty seats. (That anxiety we all feel from time to time: throw a party; nobody comes!)

Yet, I was confident that we would have a decent crowd - I figured, around 80 people. Do the math: the dance program had expanded to 25 - 30 youth, and if each brought in on average two family members or friends, we would have at least 60. And I knew of other community members and other people expressing an interest at what these young people were doing that 80 people total sounded about right.

I was helping one of the young men with his speech when the doors officially opened. A crowd of 20 or so people entered the room, filling in the first few rows of seats.

Steadily, for the next forty minutes, a crowd of people, mostly residents from the neighborhood, flowed into the room, occupying the rest of the seats, and the bleacher seats along the side of the room as well.

By 6:45PM, attendees were standing along the back and walls, and there was barely any room left for more spectators. I imagine that over 250 crowded into the gym. Later, I found out that park district officials stopped letting people into the gym. A large crowd of people congregated peacefully outside, disappointed that they didn't arrive sooner.

The room was packed, and the crowd was anxiously waiting for the show to begin. No one was quite sure what to expect - would the performance be acceptable, or a flop?

Who knew?

It was only six weeks earlier that several neighborhood youth, between the ages of 19 and22, decided that they wanted to create a dance group - a “safe haven- for youth living in the North of Howard area - something for the kids to do this summer instead of getting in trouble.

On July 24th, after ten intense days of planning and meeting with key people and organizations in the community, the group, named 808s: Youth Empowerment thru Dance had its first practice at the Willye B. White Field House. Around 15 young people, teenage boys and girls, showed up at the first practice, eager to learn and to have some fun. That first day of practice, the organizers of the program, two brothers named Jermaine and Jerrell Hawk, along with Dominique Johns and Thomas “Bud- Sanders, announced to the dancers their goal: to put together a live performance in one month's time, on August 25th. The kids eagerly agreed to join together and put together a fabulous show.

Besides a bit of guidance that I offered to the organizers, and vital administrative support furnished by Family Matters, a neighborhood nonprofit that supports many positive endeavors North of Howard, the dance production was entirely conceived, produced, choreographed and promoted by these four young adult volunteers. As the August 25th production date neared, the frequency of rehearsals increased, as did the number of dancers participating.

On the evening of the performance, over thirty kids were issued 808s T Shirts (designed by one of the youth) - and the kids anxiously and nervously paced the hallways, occasionally peeking inside the gym in awe of the capacity crowd.

The kids delivered a sterling performance. The dancers evoked emotion and positive energy, offering an upbeat message centering on a theme of nonviolence and peaceful engagement. They danced in sync and the sequence of songs ranged from upbeat, to soft and melodic. The 20-minute performance had it all: a story line, comedy bits, fast and exciting movement (including a couple of spectacular break dance routines), and my personal highlight, a tumbling routine performed to the Beatles' Live and Let Die.

The crowd was enthralled- for they had witnessed something truly spectacular. Following their performance, proud of their accomplishment, the dancers greeted the crowd of attendees. They worked hard. They succeeded big time.

Since that date a week ago, the 808s Dancers have performed their routine twice more: once at the Alderman's Back to School picnic, and then again the following Wednesday at Movie Night at Willye B. White Park. The community and other supporters continue to be wildly impressed at what these dancers are doing, and additional kids from the neighborhood are asking if they can participate as the 808s organizers plan their next move.

808s has already committed to run a program at Willye B. White beginning September 20th. More performances are sure to happen.

Stay tuned.

I encourage anyone interested in joining our 808s: YETD Advisory Board to contact me, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.