By Rebecca S. Rivas of The St. Louis American
“Bring it all to the stage, and leave nothing left.”
Darion Jordan, a team captain for the Gentlemen of Vision step team and a Riverview Gardens High School senior, repeats those words every time he steps.
For a performer to maintain this cadence, it must become a lifestyle.
“This is a part of your life every day,” Jordan said.
“Stepping is so much bigger than what most people think. It’s full of culture. It takes a lot of effort, determination and passion. If the passion isn’t behind your eyes, then nobody can feel what you feel.”
Gentlemen of Vision is a mentoring program for high school men, who are mostly Riverview Gardens High School students. Members perform the steps as a path to college education.
The road in entirety includes a endurance, perseverance, a sense of putting others before yourself and a college degree, said the group’s founder, Marlon Wharton, a guidance counselor at Riverview Gardens High School.
Still in its first year, the group has won every citywide competition. On March 13, its 35 members took home the first-place trophy in a regional competition in Nashville.
“When they first started out, not one of them could step,” said Quintton Williams, president of G.O.V.
“With the help of Mr. Wharton and different frat brothers that came in, these guys are the best steppers in St. Louis and in the region now.”
To be part of the group, applicants must have a 2.0 grade point average and no discipline referrals. They must also receive a vote of approval from existing members.
At the group’s March 18 meeting, Jerome Handford, vice president of G.O.V., announced that two more men wanted to join, and he urged the group to take a week to think about their decisions.
“Take time and think about how they can affect you,” Handford said. “Think of what they do off-stage. When you wear one of these shirts, anything you do will reflect back on the group, good or bad.”
Wharton added, “We are gentlemen of vision, and vision has a lot to do with every aspect of your lives. We have to make sure we are sending a message that we do way more than stepping.”
‘Be as one’
All the members knew what Wharton meant. Committing to the group means committing to community service, academic success and business development. It also means becoming part of a brotherhood.
“You have to be as one to get the job done,” Handford said. “You can’t be an individual.”
G.O.V. members go to elementary schools to teach kids how to step. They perform at churches and community events. Monday through Thursday, the group rehearses for three hours after school. They learn formations and talk about issues facing them in their community.
Business is a big part of the group’s focus. In fact, Wharton and many of the members were involved in a Lincoln University-sponsored step group called Men of Business, which was citywide. But Wharton said there was a growing need for a group based out of the Riverview Gardens community.
As a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and a previous step captain himself, he decided to start his own group, with the help of sponsors.
Stepping has been always part of African-American culture, especially in historically black colleges and universities and Greek fraternities and sororities, said Paul Albea, assistant principal and chief financial officer of the group.
“We wanted to use something from our own culture ¬– something that the kids could identify with – as a hook to get them involved,” Albea said.
Every week, Wharton said, students come to his office, wanting to join the group. The group has grown from 15 members last year to 35 this year. When it was Men of Business, the membership was 65. Wharton’s goal is to branch out to other districts.
Some students joined because they wanted to stay out of trouble, and others decided they wanted to be leaders.
“I joined G.O.V. to help my brothers,” Williams said. “Some guys are not as fortunate as me, so I wanted to be a role model to them. I see a change in my guys.”
Williams has been the student body president of his class since freshman year. Last year, he became the president of G.O.V., and before that he was president of Men of Business for 2 years.
He plans on becoming a principal.
“I think I would change the way some of these kids think about education,” he said. “They just need to know that it’s no joke. Without education, you can’t do anything, unless you want to flip burgers for the rest of your life.”
Handford is also a football player and self-taught piano player. He wants to become a music instructor, chef and massage therapist. In becoming G.O.V. vice president, Handford said, he committed to a positive lifestyle.
“As a vice president, I had to make sure that I stayed on top of my grades and behavior, appearance – everything,” he said.
“I was being looked at as a role model, so everything surrounding me, I had to make sure it was positive.”
All of the members have dreams, Jordan said, and they support each other in achieving them. Jordan hopes to study music next year, perhaps at Howard University.
“This organization is something that a lot people didn’t have,” Jordan said.
“You have a brotherhood. It’s a unity, and everyone’s on the same side. You have so much support from each member of the team. It’s moved me, and as a man, it’s helped me grow.”