Drumming class has same aim, different approach at schools

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Chuk Barber, African-Brazilian drum instructor, drums alongside his middle school students at Faubion.At Northeast Portland’s Faubion K-8 School on a recent Thursday, 10 boys and seven girls assembled in the gym, drumming and dancing to the pulsating sound of the “Samba Do Rio” beat.

The students were a mix of races, including black, white and Latino. The school welcomes both boys and girls to enroll in either drumming or dance, two of the three electives offered to all of Faubion’s sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders for an hour twice a week.

Chuk Barber, the instructor, has taught African-Brazilian drum and dance at Faubion for four years. But he sees it as more than just a music class: “It’s a mentorship program, and I give them drums to lure them in.”

Since 2007, he’s taken hundreds of PPS students under his wing, teaching at other high-poverty, minority-dominated schools including Woodlawn and Vernon K-8s and Rigler Elementary. He now teaches at just Faubion and Harvey Scott.

At Faubion, Barber doesn’t care about the race of the students — it’s the teachability.

“If the kids are a little bent, I can unbend them,” he says. “I want it to be with the ones I can do the most good with.”

In every class, Barber says, he tries to drill into his students messages about responsibility, self-control, self-confidence, education, respect, family and family values.

The music itself teaches discipline and teamwork, as well as basic Portuguese language and math skills.

Barber just wants to help them get ahead in the world.

“Children of color are in trouble in this world,” Barber says, noting that his focus at Harvey Scott School is on boys of color because “they are in a situation and neighborhood with 50 percent dropouts; the majority end up in the penitentiary.”

Through his classes, Barber says, the boys turn their behavior around.

“They attend classes, are less disruptive,” he says. “Nobody’s sagging (their pants) in my classes.”

Yet race is also very much a factor in how students go through their day, he says. “The white kid, he’s got carte blanche. A black kid, it’s a totally different reality,” he says.

Then he launches into what he calls “the big picture.”

“Most white politicians want to be in political office for life,” he says. “Who’s going to vote against you? People of color. It’s in your best favor to get as many people of color convicted as felons, so they never have the privilege of voting again. That’s a win-win situation for you.”

Barber adds: “Plus, police get to liquidate your assets after you’re locked up. It’s like hitting a home run for them. There’s just so many weapons used against people of color, particularly children of color, that they’re not aware of and most adults are not aware of.”

Barber, who is part Brazilian, part Choctaw Indian, from post-Katrina New Orleans, says anyone who sees his message as racist just doesn’t understand.

“I’m not racist,” he says. “How can I possibly be racist when racism was created against me? The need is for children who constantly get dumped on. The playing field is not level. These kids need to get caught up.”