Zoë facilitating hand drumming for the Rainbow Organization's Celebrate Me! Days

It was day one of the 8-week drumming course for at-risk youth.

I’d taught lots of kids before, but never “at-risk” kids. They were aged 9-11 years, mostly boys, and a few girls, in an after-school class.

I walked into the classroom, and the whole room was vibrating.

It reminded me of the shimmering of hot air above asphalt, only faster — and we hadn’t even started drumming.

I introduced myself and the course, and then said, “There’s one more thing: no drumming while I’m talking. First of all, because it’s rude. Second, I have ADHD and if you drum while I’m talking, my head will go kapow!” I gave them my best impression of a head exploding, complete with gestures and sound.

Several of the boys visibly nodded in recognition. I’d found my people.

I’d known beforehand that some of the students had been diagnosed with ADHD. I also knew that drumming had been great for me, and my instincts told me that it would be great for them, too.

Before long, we were joyfully banging on African Djembes (pronounced Jem-bay), Middle Eastern darbukas, and shaking shekeres, egg shakers, and tapping wooden sticks together while clanging on A-go-go bells. We were rockin.’

Normally, these kids were the ones who got bullied, picked on, ostracized and basically had a rough time, at school and (for some, I imagined) at home, too.

One boy stood out from the rest. He was louder, antsy-er and even more hyperactive than the others, and of course, he won my heart. One day, he was even worse than usual. After class, I approached him.

“So, what’s up?” I asked.

“I forgot to take my medication today,” he said.

“Ohhhh … I get it,” I said.

And he knew that I knew what he was talking about. Knew first-hand. And that there was no judgment, only camaraderie. If only I’d had an adult around like that when I was a kid, I thought. I’m trying to give these kids what I didn’t get when I was an out-of-control, misunderstood, hyperactive ADHD kid. I let them get up and dance, shout, parade around the room with drums, and be kinesthetic in their learning. (Not all at the same time, or all the time mind you! That would have driven me nuts).

When it came time to take the vote on a pool of suggested band names (provided by the kids themselves), the winner was — (quelle surprise!) — Drummers of Lightning. Perfect.

I bought some black t-shirts and painted silver metallic puff paint Djembe drums on them, with three yellow bolts of lighting shooting up from the drum heads. We were a band, man.

The day of the performance (optional, but everyone participated in the end), dressed in our t-shirts (even me), we paraded onto the gymnasium stage, taking our places. Sixteen students sat in a semi-circle formation, drums and percussion instruments scattered around their chairs. I stood in front, facing the kids, with my Djembe strapped around my shoulders and back.

Halfway through our second piece, I knew by their reaction that something was happening in the audience. I turned around to look. Some of the youngest kids in the front rows were on their feet, dancing.

By the third song, a few of the older kids had started a conga line. Before the song was over, the entire school body, teachers included, snaked around the gymnasium floor, hands on the hips of the person in front. The audience went wild with applause at the end of our performance. The Drummers of Lightning were a hit!

At our final wrap-up party, we played musical chairs. Students took turns drumming to provide the live music as we raced around the plastic molded chairs, giggling and laughing. While we sat and ate snacks, I pointed out what they’d accomplished. They’d brought the entire school body to their feet. They’d created happiness and joy. I encouraged them not to be afraid to be themselves, that they could use their gifts to make other people happy, and that that was the best and most powerful thing that they could do with their lives.

Their parents tell me that the drumming had a positive impact on their children. And my belief in the power of drumming to transform lives, even misfit ADHDers like me, was proven once again.

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