WANT TO SEE POINT AND DRIVE?

DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT

BRANDI MITCHELL

My reason for doing this documentary film is simple; band has always been a part of my life – a very important part. I grew up in Detroit, and at age 9, my fourth grade band teacher Mr. Duke at Carver Elementary introduced me to music. After trying some instruments out in class, I rushed home, called my father, and asked if he could buy me a flute.  That weekend my Dad brought me a black box with not a flute, but a clarinet– you see the clarinets were cheaper to rent!  I spent all my time after school trying to figure out how to make that clarinet sing. Surprisingly I was pretty much a natural, and could play very well by ear. Thirty - three years later I am still in awe and forever grateful that because someone gave me an opportunity to play an instrument in a band class – it would change my entire life.

By middle school I was introduced to my second band teacher, Mr. Nicholson at Drew Middle School – a graduate of Alabama State University. He introduced us to playing popular music as well as marching and playing in parades. I was 13 when I saw my first HBCU band - that’s Historically Black College and University Band. It was a special HBCU game in Detroit between The Tennessee State Aristocrats and what would be my high school band teacher’s alma mater The Southern University Human Jukebox. As both bands marched down Woodward Avenue, they looked like musical giants. I had never heard or seen anything like it before, but recognized a kinship to the bands.

By the time I hit high school, I went to a catholic high school – and joined the band. I didn’t like the school because of my experiences, but more importantly, I hated the band. Maybe it was because I never fit in with the school or the band. Meanwhile in my neighborhood, I would rush home to go to my neighborhoods high school bands practice The Mackenzie High School Band of Renown. You could hear the band and the drumline playing from blocks away. The band director, Mr. Bobby L. Brown, was like the Pied Piper, all the kids would follow him – from thug, to drug dealer, to football player. Somehow this neighborhood band led by this extraordinary man had brought an entire community together at 3:35pm for a two hour practice were the focus was the band - no violence - just the band.

I begged my Mom and Dad to let me go to Mackenzie High the following year so I could be in the band – and promised I would continue to get really good grades. By that summer I was trying out for the famous Mackenzie Band of Renown, and the rest as they say is history. Mackenzie’s Band director, Mr. Bobby L. Brown patterned his high school band off of the Southern University Marching Band. More than that, he had sent nearly 40 kids to school on band scholarships – something that was unheard of in the Midwest. He also took us on band trips to HBCU’s. He knew that if we could see “ourselves” on those campuses, it could change our lives – and it did.

I went on to attend Florida A&M University to major in Business, but I was drawn to the school from – you guessed it – the band. To this day I still say making the Florida A&M University Marching 100 was one of the hardest things I have ever done. In fact on my band shirt, I had a simple quote – “The Race is Given to the One Who Endures Until the End”. I had no idea what world of greatness I was stepping into as a kid from Detroit – but I’m so glad that I hung in there – because the payoff was extraordinary – and it still is. Making the FAMU Marching 100 was like making the All Star team. As a freshman I joined the ranks of those from across the nation who were the top of class musically and academically. These kids became my confidants, best friends, sisters, brothers and teammates. And, if we had a “Dad” it would be Dr. William P. Foster along with a group of mentors in Dr. Julian White, Professor Lindsay Sarjeant, Professor Charles Bing, and Dr. Shaylor James or as many called them "The Foster Five" all of which were also alumni members of the famous marching band during their collegiate years..

Now as a wife and a mother to a young man who has just found his own love for the band and to whom I get the privilege of experiencing “band life” through his eyes, I can see in even greater form the benefits of a life filled with music. I’m an unapologetic “Band Mom’ now and loving it. It is because of my son and his generation - who has more and more negative influences- that I also present Point and Drive as a reminder to THEM of who they can become through music.

 

While this story is centered on my experiences, it is a universal one. In fact if you ask any band member from any school they will have similar feelings. Band simply generates this type of experience. FAMU’s band just so happens to be the innovator of the halftime show and thus the building block of which many band programs were made from which is the reason I am so grateful to have witnessed its brilliance for myself. I am sure that many people will see their band directors and teachers in Point and Drive too, because to be a band director takes a certain recipe of father figure, tough love, compassion, and drive.

This intimate experience of band life coupled with a spirit of gratitude is why I committed to taking this inside look into the marching band world with Point and Drive. It was inspired by the death of my band directors Mr. Brown and Dr. Foster. While I sat in their funerals, five years apart, I found myself having the same feeling – I wanted to express my gratitude for the journey they led me on.

That expression of gratitude became Point and Drive.

Initially when starting production for Point and Drive I thought it was a book. Having written three books, it was a familiar lane. I did the first interview in September 2011 with two of my band brothers from Florida A&M with the intent on getting the majority of the interviews at the last game of the season – The Florida Classic in Orlando that November.  Because of a family emergency however, I sold my ticket and planned on doing the interviews later that next year.

But with one event, everything changed. At that very game, our world changed forever when a FAMU Drum Major, Robert Champion was killed in a hazing incident.

It. Changed. Everything.

Now the once celebrated band, had a scarlet letter, and most heartbreaking, one of our family members was gone and a group of kid’s lives would never be the same. The next months to follow the media ate the band alive, they painted us as thugs, and brutes, you name it. It was a far cry from the previous labels we had carried for nearly seven decades of “America’s Band”, and “The most imitated band in the world”.

As a mother I was torn; I couldn’t imagine nor would I ever want to imagine that loss.
As an alumni member - I felt helpless.
As someone who felt commissioned to tell this story albeit two months before this even happened – I felt obligated.

In a larger societal story, the next months to follow our communities would be shaken as we saw the rise of young men and women of color being senselessly killed within their own communities and in police cases, and heightened terror threats globally.  Never has there been a time where our youth needed direction, hope and positive influencers than now. For my friends and I growing up in inner cities, the band was that influence. The leaders we became as a result was the band and universities dividend.

I hope that every viewer of Point and Drive walks away with greater hope, pride, clarity, love, and a boost of drive. That it shows the beauty of the marching band and gives insight as to our beautiful bond that has in some cases been misunderstood or minimized to a “good show” at a halftime game. That it shows the difference between discipline, hard work, and hazing; that it honors those band teachers that work hard to teach our kids, and celebrates the band teachers that directly effected my life so greatly. That it shows the countless success stories of men and women who have used the foundation of what they learned in the marching band to create better communities, work environments, and families.

That after the credits role, it will encourage us all to want to march to the same beat.

 

We are Point and Drive.

Respectfully Submitted in Gratitude,

Brandi Mitchell
Producer, Director Point and Drive Documentary


 

GET UPDATES ABOUT POINT AND DRIVE

WATCH THE TRAILER
  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Twitter Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black YouTube Icon