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Brooks comes to Mustang Country; a noteworthy addition to the DGS staff

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Brooks conducting the band during a Marching Band rehearsal.

Brooks conducting the band during a Marching Band rehearsal.

Brooks conducting the band during a Marching Band rehearsal.

The band stared up at him intensely as he spoke.

“Do you know why I had you play the last note for as long as I did? — Because that is how long the last quarter note of the song is. I know it’s hot and we are out in the sun, but let’s try it again,” new band director DaJuan Brooks said under the sun in 90-degree heat.

He raised his hands and the band began to play their instruments, paying close attention to the tactics of Brooks. On the final note, the sound of their instruments resonated through the air, holding for an extra beat.

Brooks was hired to direct the marching band, jazz workshop and all concert bands in March of 2018, one of 10 candidates for the position. Twenty-six years old, African American and gay, Brooks has had a lot to overcome in his life. He worked at a previous high school for three years, where he never felt welcome because of his identity.

“At my other school, every day, there was always something. There was some teacher, some mom, there was some dad, that would say I am unqualified, that I don’t belong here … I told [DGS administration] in the interview that I wanted to make sure I was in a place that would openly accept and love the fact that I am a gay, black teacher, and that I am not ashamed of it. I, whatsoever, don’t want my students to be ashamed of it either. For those who identify themselves that way and for those of them that don’t. You being yourself and seeing someone different than you is an asset to everyone in the building,” Brooks said.

The discrimination that Brooks has gone through has allowed him to be vulnerable in front of others. He believes that in order for students to fully trust him as a teacher, a director and a friend, he must be willing to expose what others may try to hide. This vulnerability was one of the unique qualities that District 99 administration was looking for in a new director.

“When we are looking for teachers, we are looking for good people first … we wanted to make sure we got a good, diverse band director with skill and ability, but also someone who had a lot of experience with marching band,” DGS Principal Edward Schwartz said.

Brooks attended the University of Arizona where he majored in clarinet performance. Within his time at the university, he taught marching band at five different schools, played in both wind ensemble and orchestra and taught clarinet to other students.

He then moved forward and became a drum major as well as received his double master’s degree in music education and clarinet performance at Northwestern University. Brooks won numerous competitions, played on 98.7 WFMT radio twice and won the Drum Corps International (DCI) — he was the Woodwind Champion as a first-year student with a score of 100.00 in 2011.

“I have wanted to change careers a bunch of times, but then everything just kept pulling me back, and now I just love everything about it,” Brooks said.

While he occasionally questioned his career choice, Brooks was invited and performed with the United States Persings of Army band as well as the Washington D.C. band for the Air Force.

“[Given] his extensive experience, he is clearly … very well-educated in music. He had a great deal of passions and enthusiasm. I could envision him in front of kids and them being motivated just because of his passions and enthusiasm,” Schwartz said.

Fine Arts Department Chair Glenn Williams felt similarly, describing Brooks as being a “really good fit” based on “who he is as a musician and as a person.”

New director DaJuan Brooks demonstrating the clarinet to his students.

During the interview process for the job, 10 candidates were under revision. All initial candidates were interviewed at DGN as well as DGS, where together they narrowed down the selection to four final candidates. These final four candidates then met with Schwartz and Williams.

Each finalist was given the opportunity to direct the band at both DGN and DGS. Students and staff then gave their feedback to Williams and Schwartz, which were taken into consideration when the decision was being made.

Co-worker and Band Director Greg Hensel felt, during Brooks’s opportunity to direct the band, that he had great potential as the DGS band director.

“The first time, I’ll never forget, he just started pulling clarinetists out of each band and just having a quick sit-down, and a clarinetist comes in and they are having a rough time. [Brooks] says, ‘Oh, give me that.’ He slaps his mouth piece on there and starts playing,” Hensel said. “He’s a really great musician, and he can pick up any clarinet, or any instrument really, and just start playing it. It’s kind of like any teacher initiation. The teacher has to sort of prove himself to the kids. I think the kids really responded to that quickly and really listened to what he was saying.”

Many of the students responded positively to the new band director. Junior Karin Schroeder noticed that with new teachers comes new traditions and techniques, which are used in order to help the program improve.

“I think he definitely invests a lot into the program. You can tell he cares a lot. He cares a lot about what we do, and he cares about how we feel about it … I think, in the long run, it will be worth it because we are already sounding, not just in marching band but in regular band, we already sound so much better,” Schroeder said.

Senior Isaac Rutledge thought similarly, believing that Brooks helped him individually as well as the band progress.

“100% progress, 100% of the time, plus fun. You are always progressing when he is teaching you and it is always fun,” Rutledge said.

During this transition period, Brooks, as Hensel has said, had to “prove” himself to DGS students; however, because of his extensive background, students and staff accepted him quickly.

Senior Emma Ansah has been a part of the DGS band for four years, along with Rutledge. Ansah values Brooks’s experience because she, like Rutledge and Schroeder, feels it has helped her improve.

“[He is] already one of my favorite teachers I’ve ever had. I feel like, in the short time I’ve known him, I’ve already improved so much more than I have in the last few years I’ve been here. Everything he says is valuable. Everything he says makes me love him more,” Ansah said.

Although freshman Emma Clemens has not been a participant of the DGS band for as long as Ansah or Rutledge, she has noticed a difference between Brooks and her previous directors.

“I respect him more than past band directors I have had, and he is a wonderful teacher. He cares about us legitimately, he’s not just doing his job,” Clemens said. “He is very good at constructive criticism. He is sometimes a little hard on us, but it helps us grow stronger.”

Although every teacher criticizes their students at some point, Brooks attempts to promote a welcoming environment in his classroom.

“I try my best to make people feel welcome and invited in conversation, and you have to be the same way as a teacher. Your students have to want to play for you … I’m letting people know that I am being vulnerable and I expect that from them,” Brooks said.

“We learn how to work with one another and build that type of relationship with one another so that the students feel heard, so that I feel heard and we are both getting this sense of accomplishment when it comes to being authentically yourself, because that is the biggest, biggest thing that I stress … you have to think about living your life in empathy, and loving the people around you and being authentically yourself,” Brooks said.

Many students appreciate Brooks’s authenticity; they feel they are able to connect with him more as a teacher and friend — specifically Rutledge.

“I can relate to him more because we are both black. So, it’s easier relating to him on that level, and when you can relate to your teacher on a more personal level, it makes learning from them even easier and better,” Rutledge said.

Similarly, Ansah responded with appreciation and awe.

“I have been in school for how many years since kindergarten and this is the first time in my entire life that I have not had a white teacher. It’s pretty amazing,” Ansah said.

Not only does he form this type of relationship with his students, but also with staff. Hensel feels grateful for the effort Brooks has put in as a director and co-worker.

“Everything we do here is a partnership, everything is teamwork between the two of us. That’s been really cool for me to feel like I have that constant support in everything we’re doing in such a crazy job,” Hensel said.

Brooks feels that in a school community students need to embrace themselves in order to reach their full potential. While working with Hensel, Brooks intends to create a supportive environment based on encouraging students to make mistakes.

“Me and Mr. Hensel are building this idea and this culture where this is the room to make all the mistakes and learn how to be the best version of yourself by playing this instrument. Because I am black and gay and am told all the time that my culture is not worth it, and something is wrong with me and the only thing black people are good for is playing sports and singing rap, the last thing I want to do in my rehearsals with my students is to make them feel like everything about them is wrong,” Brooks said.

As the year continues, Brooks aims to step further. He wants all of his students to feel moved by each piece they play. Given the opportunity to improve their instrumental abilities, Brooks wants each student to feel inspired as well as inspire someone new — like how he was inspired to play the clarinet.

“I always tell them it is your opportunity to move someone and change someone’s life for one moment. You can play one sustained, one impact moment, and there is a seventh grader sitting with mom from some other school and all of a sudden, they are like, ‘I want to do that,’” Brooks said.

As Brooks delves deeper into his new job, he intends to continue improving his own abilities, aiming to achieve his life long goal — playing for “the President’s own” Marine Band of Washington D.C.

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About the Writer
Andrea Davenport, Print Co-Editor-in-Chief

Andrea Davenport is a senior at DGS and is the Print Co-Editor-in-Chief. This is her second year as a member of the DGS Blueprint staff; however, she was a freelance writer for the paper her sophomore year and the Print Opinions Editor her junior year. As the Print Opinions Editor her first year on the Blueprint staff, Davenport won multiple awards at three different journalism competitions.

Looking to be an English teacher in the future, Davenport’s top choice of college is Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.

In the summer of 2017, Davenport was selected, one of only 16, to attend the IPF Journalism workshop hosted at Eastern Illinois University. The following summer, she was selected and named the Distinguished Young Woman of Downers Grove, representing her town in a scholarship program– one of only 11 participants out of 110 applicants.

Davenport enjoys blogging, writing short fiction and participating in both club and DGS varsity gymnastics. In February of 2017, Davenport advanced to the IHSA State competition in Palatine, placing number nine on the balance beam and number 18 on the floor exercise.

In her free time, when she is not at gymnastics or doing homework, Davenport enjoys baking, eating, blogging about the food she baked and watching her favorite television shows and movies: “Downton Abbey,” “Reign,” “Dirty Dancing,” “Grease” and “Spotlight.”

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Brooks comes to Mustang Country; a noteworthy addition to the DGS staff