Constituent Spotlight: Y.L. Douglas Jr.& Rich South High School Band
Rich South Band Director uses music to bring out the best in his students
Rich South High School Band director Y.L. Douglas Jr. marched his students to an unforeseen victory over eight stellar competitors at the Chicago Football Classic Band Competition last month at Soldier Field.
But trophies aren’t the most important rewards band members earn under Douglas’s guidance. They learn to be leaders. They develop decision-making skills and learn to set goals for their future. And when they win a tough musical competition or give a show-stopping performance, they prove to themselves that anything is possible through hard work.
“If a student can be disciplined enough to play music correctly, then he or she can be disciplined enough to get the education they need,” said Douglas, who is in his ninth year as musical director at Rich South. “I expect my musicians to give me their best effort—both in the band and with their school studies. I teach them to never say: ‘I can’t do it.’ ”
During a weeklong summer workshop he holds every year, Douglas trains a core group of about 17 band members to be leaders.
“Through the school year, my leaders meet before school and after band practices to assess progress, set goals and make plans. They are my assistants. I show them how to lead their peers and how to be effective leaders. I bring in leaders from around the area to speak to them. They learn that leadership is guiding other people to success. In fact, the band’s motto is ‘Leadership through musicianship.’ ”
Douglas’s mentoring and readiness to serve as a positive role model has transformed the lives of his students. Ninety-six percent of the band is on the honor roll. And since 2006, graduating band members have been awarded more than $13 million in talent and academic scholarships from colleges and universities across the country.
“We’re not only learning about music—Mr. Douglas takes music and turns it into how life can play out,” said band member Phillip Hoffman. “He makes sure we’re focused and that we stay concerned about school work. He sets an example. Some of the male students are without father figures. He steps up and becomes the father figure. He shows that no matter what’s going on at home, you can still use music and the band to bring out the best in yourself. He’s always motivating us to do better and pushing us to go even higher. He never allows us to settle for less.”
Because of Douglas’s guidance, Hoffman is considering a career in architectural engineering with a minor in music.
“I want a career that incorporates both,” he said. “Maybe music therapy. I want to be able to rebuild the mind through music. Or maybe audio engineering. I might want to produce music and somehow incorporate acoustics with math and science.”
Douglas considers his band “the greatest group in the world” and says his students have learned that if they stay together, they will reach their goal.
“They have learned not to give up,” he said. “I remember when we played for the Chinese president when he was arriving at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. It was one of the coldest days recorded in Chicago history. The wind-chill was 21 degrees below zero. The wind was coming straight off the lake. Then we got a call that the president was going to be an hour late. We didn’t give up. We stayed and we played the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics theme song for him. The valves on their instruments were sticking—but they continued to play.”
Jazmine Short, a graduating senior, has chosen to pursue a career in music as a result of Douglas’s influence. She will be attending the University of Arkansas on a scholarship next year and plans to major in music education.
“In middle school, I didn’t pay much attention to music. But in high school, I realized how much I loved it. Mr. Douglas made me realize that music is what I want to do. He made me explore music. I never knew I could make my own arrangements. Now I’m making my own arrangements for the band. He truly has put us in a mindset that we are the greatest band in the world. And that wouldn’t be possible without the greatest band director.”
Douglas credits his success and love of music to David Eanes, band director at Thornridge High School.
“He’s been my musical father and mentor and now my fellow educator for the past 35 years,” Douglas said of his former teacher. “I was an electrical engineering major, but after being a part of his program, I changed my major in my junior year. I believe at this point in time, I’m doing what I was called to do on this earth— thanks to David Eanes.”
Douglas said that he wouldn’t be as organized as he is without the help of three volunteer parents: Matricia Jackson, Linda McClinton, and Sharon Weathersby.
“They are the greatest and they help keep things in order,” he said.
The band is currently training for its next competition: the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis.
Members of Douglas’s 2013-14 leadership team are listed below.
- Phillip Hoffman
- Jasmine Short
- Helena Bulliner
- Joshua Colbert
- Elijah Scott Christmas
- Dejon Weathersby
- Oreon Jackson
- Marques Webster
- Demetrius Burrows
- Brandon Collins
- Melina Evans
- Jeremiah Douglas
- Danielle Avinger Russell
- Chandrea Jenkins
- Brittney Henley
- Dominique Martin
- Velva Brown