Loud beats have been ringing in Rolando Barry’s ears for more than 25 years.
As drillmaster of the Mid-Missouri Highsteppers, Barry has been reaching out to Columbia youth since 1979.
At the Columbia College women’s basketball game Saturday evening, Boone County Commissioner Skip Elkin presented a plaque to Barry for his commitment to the community.
Barry said most of the children that come to him have discipline problems and they come to him for the attention they can get through performing in front of an audience.
“I’m the disciplinarian,” Barry said. “I use tough love so they appreciate and respect authority. I’m tough but fair.”
The 85 children, who range in ages from third through 12th grade with a few older ones who stay and help lead the group, learn to dance and play drums in exchange for learning a creed.
Written by Barry and his friend, Mike Richards, the creed is a promise made by the children to respect themselves and others and remember the consequences of their decisions.
The Highsteppers have three practices each week, to which Barry brings his original ideas and lets the children build off of them.
“They bring in their creativities and moves,” Barry said. “I give the motivation and instruction.”
Barry says he will continue to work with the Highsteppers “forever.” He has a program in place right now that teaches members of the group to be leaders so they can eventually run themselves and he can focus more on networking and fund-raising.