Just like a backyard barbeque brings family and friends together, The Cookout inaugural event will create a new camaraderie for the marching arts. The Cookout invites “people of color” with roles as color guard designers, choreographers, directors, technicians, volunteers, and judges to network, connect, and celebrate. The luncheon will be held at the Marriott at the University of Dayton on April 10, 2022, the day after WGI Sport of the Arts Color Guard World Championships.
Beyond just a banquet, The Cookout will include a panel of speakers, present a legacy award, and provide two student scholarships.
The goal is “to have people of color come together to celebrate each other because we’ve never had the opportunity to do this,” says organizer Nicole Younger. “We need to feel as celebrated as everyone else.”
According to The Cookout’s mission statement, people of color have been “crucial to the growth and expansion of this activity … [and] pivotal in innovation, design, intrigue, and raising performance standards.”
Younger marched with various winter guards and drum corps starting at the age of 19. Since 2001, she has taught scholastic groups in New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas, and Ohio, as well as the independent group O2 in Dayton, Ohio. Most recently, she stepped over to judging.
“When I started doing color guard, … there wasn’t a lot of people who looked like me,” says Younger, who is African-American. “When I started to see them, it gave me hope and a push to get better. When I got older, I didn’t see a lot of people like me on the other side of the floor as a director. This is my first year judging, and I still don’t see a lot of people [who] look like [me].”
To help encourage females and minority groups to participate in the marching arts, Younger is a member of the WGI Sport of the Arts Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee, a mentor to a member of the WGI Future Leaders Program, and a council member for Our Marching Counts, a diversity and inclusion organization for the marching arts.
During the pandemic shutdown in 2020, Younger and other color guard colleagues would meet through video conferencing to check in and connect with each other. Younger thought that an in-person event would be great, and the concept for The Cookout was born.
Younger and five other committee members—Matt Miller, Martell Pearson, Ricardo Robinson-Shinall, Bianca Wallace, and Andre Williams—have envisioned The Cookout event to show that “[people of color] are still here creating, educating, and inspiring the next generation of color guard,” according to the mission statement.
Awards, Speakers, and Sponsors
At The Cookout, event organizers are hosting a panel of speakers—Shavon Garcia, Michael James, Vincent Thomas, and Kennedy Riles. They will talk about their personal journeys in the marching arts and where their experiences have taken them.
The Cookout will also be honoring Shelia Henderson, who is entering her 46th year as director of The Light Brigade Colorguard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “She has an inspiring presence, and after speaking with her, I could feel how much she lives and breathes her guard and this activity,” Younger says.
Two $500 scholarships will be awarded at The Cookout. Interested applicants need to submit a one-minute video answering specific questions and fill out an online form. Details can be found at the Jan. 19 Facebook post for The Cookout at facebook.com/TheCookout22.
Sponsors of The Cookout include Halftime Magazine, Band Shoppe, Creative Costuming and Designs, Digital Performance Gear, Field and Floor FX, GPG Music, Guard Closet, McCormick’s, Mic Check One Two One Two, StylePLUS, and WGI Sport of the Arts.
How to Participate
Tickets for the event are available for $40 per person. To join, you can send money via Cash App with your name, guard affiliation, and guest count. T-shirts can also be purchased for $25.
If you have a business that would like to sponsor The Cookout, various levels are available from $1 to $2,000 and up.