Wiesbaden teens earn national recognition
Singer Ashanti (center) poses with members of Wiesbaden's '1-LUV' -- Navis Merceron, DeAja Atwaters, Denisha Jackson, Jaquan Hooker and Ashley Ward.

WIESBADEN, Germany -- Officials from Boys & Girls Clubs of America say that the six-member teenage singing group '1-LUV' from Wiesbaden set the standard for what to expect from military teens.

"The military has a saying. Stand tall," said Boys and Girls Clubs of America's Kelvin Davis, director of character and citizenship programs. "Those two words captured (1-LUV's) efforts."

The teen's efforts included a progression from a talented run-of-the-mill recording group to performance professionals who brought a crowd of 1,200 people to its feet.

In May, '1-LUV' represented the Wiesbaden Youth Center at the 103rd annual National Boys & Girls Clubs of America Conference in Atlanta, Ga. The group performed two songs - a harmony called "Be Great" written by teen center program assistants Kevin Iszard and Mike Lattimore and a rap song called "Character Counts" written by the members of '1-LUV.'

One of seven groups to perform at a sold-out finale dinner, '1-LUV' was the first military teen group in the conference's century-old history to be selected to perform.

A military teen from Camp Zama, Japan, was also selected to perform this year.

Wiesbaden group members Ashley Ward, 15; DeAja Atwaters, 15; Denisha Jackson, 17; Jaquan Hooker, 16; Phillip Tross, 16; and Navis Merceron, 17, called their selection an honor and a blessing.

All military installation youth centers are associated with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, an organization dedicated to providing safe places for young people to learn and grow. BGCA has more than 4,300 club locations around the world.

According to BGCA, club members worldwide submitted more than 400 DVDS this year as auditions to fill the performance slots for BGCA's annual conference.

When Davis came across '1-LUV' he said, "I realized we had a diamond in the rough. Their vocals and harmonies were spot on, and their sound was honest and unique. The question was, 'Could they become a first-class performing group and learn difficult choreography in three short days''"

They could and did.

"We set a standard for every military base's (youth center)," Tross said.

Spending May 12-18 in Atlanta and practicing with professional choreographer DeAntre Washington, the group performed in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta Hotel on May 16. The first song, "Be Great," brought a round of applause. The second song, "Character Counts" which closed the finale dinner, ended with a standing ovation. And when '1-LUV' entered the lobby, another standing ovation erupted and then a third.

But it was a long road for the teens from a beginning with inexpensive recording program software when they first started - which changed when the Youth Center obtained more advanced recording software with the BGCA auditions in mind.

When the news first came in April that they would perform in Atlanta, Atwaters said she cried and Jackson got misty eyed.

"It really felt like an honor, like a blessing," said Ward.

Seeing recording stars such as Usher and Ashanti, actor Courtney B. Vance and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, group members said they were inspired and at times starstruck. Usher, Ashanti and Tomlin were among the stars inducted into the BGCA Alumni Hall of Fame during the conference.

"Ashanti was very motivational," said Ward, speaking of singer Ashanti's meeting with the BGCA performers and her story of beginning in music with a performance on a BGCA stage.

"The idea of a trip like that (to Atlanta), and the idea that their talents were taking them somewhere, it just solidified what we (at the Youth Center) had been telling them," Lattimore said. "It solidified that what we're doing is the right thing."

Page last updated Tue June 16th, 2009 at 04:13