FRANKLIN, NJ—In 2002, a New Brunswick schoolteacher started a drill team to give her students at Paul Robeson Community School something positive to do after school.
Now, more than a decade later, the Divas & Gents drill and drum squad is still going strong and, though it is based in a neighboring municipality, more than half of its members are New Brunswick residents.
Complete with an impressive drum corps, the volunteer team acts like professionals, practicing elaborate and athletic dance routines at the Head Start building on Hamilton Street multiple times every week.
The team is looking forward to Saturday night, when they will perform in honor of black history month at Franklin's Community Senior Center at 505 DeMott Lane in Somerset.
"Recognizing the full scope of African-American achievements in the United States is important for understanding defining moments in the country's history. We are very happy and excited to be a part of it," said the squad's founder and head coach Angela King-James.
While the team has been headquartered in the Somerset section of Franklin, which borders New Brunswick, their roots are in the Hub City, according to King-James.
"The team originally represented Paul Robeson Community School in New Brunswick. It was basically started to give the students something positive to do after school," said the head coach.
"Now it serves as a safe haven for the youth in our community. It keeps the youth off of the streets and out of trouble."
The Divas & Gents were honored to perform for the Franklin Township Council at their February 12 meeting. King-James said she was grateful for the support from the elected officials in Franklin.
"It feels really good, because there are so many other talented youth in our community, but their talents go un-recognized, so we are truly grateful for the recognition that we receive," said King-James.
Unfortunately, New Brunswick's City Council hasn't been as welcoming.
"We have reached out to [the New Brunswick City] Council office numerous times, but never received any assistance from them. They told us, since we practiced in Somerset, they could not help us," said King-James.
"I don't know why we weren't allowed to practice in New Brunswick, but we were never surprised by their lack of support."
Nevertheless, the team hopes residents of both municipalities will turn out to their celebration of black history tomorrow, which begins at 5pm at the senior center at 505 DeMott Lane in Franklin.
Tickets for the event will be available for $5 each at the door.