BRONZEVILLE — For 14 years, the Golden Knights Drill Team has entertained Bud Billiken Parade goers with heart-stopping, slickly choreographed routines while inspiring performers to join their ranks.
When the pandemic hit, everything stopped. Events were canceled and the team members couldn’t even use their Fuller Park practice space to keep busy. They also took a financial hit, as the resources they usually relied upon to stay afloat were inaccessible.
Now, with a little over a week until the Bud Billiken Parade, the nonprofit arts organization hopes to raise enough money to return. A crowd favorite, the group won first place for best dance team in 2015 and 2016. A fundraiser aims to raise $5,000 for transportation, entry fees and other essentials for the team.
“We’ve been out of commission for two years now,” said Director Amaris Hewitt, who — along with William Charles and Antonio Hughes — established the drill team in 2007, using dance as a way to keep kids safe.
The group finally resumed practice in their Fuller Park space in May. If they can raise enough money, they’ll be ready to put on a show at the Aug. 12 parade.
Members range from 5 years old to 32. Once you’re a Golden Knight, you’re one for life. Many of them return to volunteer their time and dance skills for performances that take the group around the country, from New York’s Halloween Parade to the Mendota Sweet Corn Fest Parade.
Hewitt said the pandemic also caused the team to miss out on crucial fundraising time. Team members once would take to the streets to solicit donations, but COVID-19 has made that far more difficult.
“We’re hoping that people all over the city and beyond see what we’re doing and reach out to help. These kids give their all every day. Everyone has something going on at home, at school. … I know that’s stressful,” Hewitt said. “But they come and give it their all, regardless.”
Joining the Golden Knights has been a transformative experience for Quamiee Walden, who has been part of the group for nearly a decade, making the move from the South Shore Drill Team to join Hewitt’s group. For Walden and teammates Romani Green and Keishawn Hamilton, it’s the familial bond and sense of belonging that keeps them coming back.
“One day, my brother brought me to practice and I asked him if I could join. I showed them what I could do, and from there I just started coming to practice with him,” said Hamilton, who joined six years ago.
Green joined around the same time and makes the trek from her south suburban home every week to practice. The high school sophomore said she sees herself coming back to volunteer after she graduates.
“They look out for you here. If you need something, they got you,” Green said. “I might go off and do my own thing but I’m definitely coming back.”
The team is about halfway to its fundraising goal. People interested in donating can do so here.
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