Alumnus gives back to his school and community with gifts from the Ellen Show
Alumnus gives back to his school and community with gifts from the ‘Ellen’ Show
His award-winning band has been chronicled in a documentary and invited to the White House and The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where he received $300,000 for the southeast D.C. public school and band through multiple appearances on the show.
Watson and the band first appeared on the ‘Ellen’ Show 15 years ago. She brought him back on March 23 as one of her favorite guests to share how his students have been coping during the pandemic. During the show, 1-800-GOT-JUNK Founder and CEO Brian Scudamore presented Watson with a $100,000 check for the school. He also gifted Watson with plans for a mural to inspire students . Scudamore’s, “Can You Imagine” movement provides murals in schools for students to physically see their dreams in writing.
“Going to UDC turned out to be the best decision,” Watson said. “Between the band director, the late Calvin Jones and my professor and advisor Judith Korey, they kept me on track academically and were important mentors and adult figures in my life at the time.”
Watson used his music education degree at Ballou as a student-teacher and dreamed of becoming the band director. After volunteering with the band and impressing the band director, he told Watson that the position would be held for him until he graduated the following year.
“It was a dream come true,” Watson said. “I didn’t want to go anywhere else. There is something about this school. I get the students here. I used to sit where they are now. I understand the neighborhood and the community.”
In fact, Watson lived across the street from Ballou from sixth grade through high school. He has come full circle, having been a drum major and trombone section captain at Ballou as a student.
Today, Watson is a beloved band director, instrumental and general music teacher and mentor who opens the world to students and helps them to dream beyond what they can see. The Ballou Majestic Marching Knights have won more than a thousand awards in competitions for decades. The band have performed at the Rose Bowl, Macy’s and Cherry Blossom parades, festivals, museum openings, The Ellen Show and other events.
Watson’s passion for students is evident and is why Ellen DeGeneres has invited him back as a guest on stage or in the audience 12 times. During previous appearances, the show arranged for donations of each from PayPal, Shutterfly and 1-800-Got Junk, to be used for the band and to support the school.
The school first garnered national attention with the release of a documentary, “Ballou” by Michael Patrei in 2008, which followed the inner-city school on a journey from band camp to the National High Stepping Marching Band Competition in Birmingham, Alabama. The documentary captured the lives of the band members, staff and Watson as they used music to overcome challenges and uplift the community.
The documentary was shown on BET and was met with a great response, including invitations to The Ellen DeGeneres Show and the White House, where President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush welcomed Watson and the marching band.
The band has had its challenges, however. “It was pretty tough in the beginning,” he said. “All the heavy hitters had graduated. We had to recruit ninth graders,” Watson said. “I always say, I have students with so much heart.”
Watson continues to pay it forward by mentoring his band. He also founded the WAT-sons Mentoring program, which stands for Willing and Aspiring Teen-Sons–young men whom Watson serves as a father figure.
The WAT-sons stand out in their navy-blue blazers, blue and gold striped ties, white shirts and khaki pants that they must wear twice a week and on outings. Participants include students in the band and the community. The mentoring sessions offer candid discussions about school, home life and development as a young man. Students participate in field trips, learn etiquette and are exposed to cultural activities. Graduates of the program frequently return to mentor the younger students.
“I feel like I’m giving back what was given to me with all of the mentors I’ve had over the years,” Watson said. “When I see my students walk across the stage, maturing into young adults, it makes me feel good to know that I was on this journey with them. I believe I was put on this earth to do what I am doing now. I don’t want to mishandle the God-given gift. I don’t want to let God down.”
To view the episode of Darrell Watson on the “Ellen” show, please click here.