By Lisa Washington

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — In honor of Black History Month we are shining a light on a local African-American color guard team that is beating the odds.

The group has placed on the national level despite competing in a sport with little minority representation. And they are changing the lives of young men in the community.

“Self-discipline, confidence, team-building, reconnect students to what it is to have positive adult relationships. And then to give them a sport, an art form in which they can hone,” says Jasonta Roberts-Deen, one of the instructors of the color guard.

That’s the mission of the “Men With a Vision” color guard troop. The independent organization was created 20 years ago by founder Henry Sowell.

“It gives them that foundation of understanding that they can achieve on their own. So they are the ones that keep this program going,” says Roberts-Deen.

The troop is not connected to any school, so it draws kids from various areas.

“A lot of our students come from multiple different areas, different neighborhoods, different schools,” said Roberts-Deen. “[It’s] a good way of getting them to bridge those gaps between neighborhoods.”

And this isn’t just an after-school activity. The skills learned through the program may help some students finance their higher education goals.

“This is actually recognized in some colleges as a sport that they can actually get scholarships to attend a college or university,” Roberts-Deen said.

For Sowell, the kids in the troop are more like family.

“He would get up at 6 in the morning and go pick up a student and drive them to school,” Roberts-Deen said.

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He also often uses his own money to purchase uniforms, buy new rifles and more. But the lack of outside financial support has not stopped the small group from winning.

“These kids here have been competing at the national level and still placing. They don’t have the financial backing that some districts provide,” Roberts-Deen said.

Instructors say they’ve seen the program change kids’ lives.

“It’s amazing what can happen when you just have somebody who cares and gives them that little bit of self-confidence, ‘you can do this, you have it in you, go for it,’” said Roberts-Deen.

There’s one message “Men With a Vision” wants everyone to know about African-American youth.

“These students are worth it, and I think people need to know that. They’re worth it,” Roberts-Deen added.

The group currently has a GoFundMe account to raise enough money to compete in the Tournament of Bands championships in Wildwood, New Jersey.

Visit the page here: https://www.gofundme.com/sbp2xat7

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