(JACKSON, Miss.) — If a ball of energy were a person, Marvin Garcia Meda would probably be one. The first-year biology premed student partly credits his energy for helping him secure a coveted spot as a member of J5 – the exclusive drum major squad for the Sonic Boom of the South Marching Band.
This accomplishment makes Meda the first Hispanic drum major in the history of the Boom.
“I almost teared up, but I was like you have to ‘hold it in, Marvin,’ ” said Meda, whose mother emigrated from Guatemala to the U.S in the mid-90s.
Dr. Roderick Little, associate director of bands and marching band director at JSU, calls the moment groundbreaking and emphasizes that the program encourages excellence from all. As long as students can “get the job done,” said Little, and uphold the morals and standards of the university, they are fit for leadership positions.
Little added that diversity brings about new ideas from people with different perspectives and backgrounds that strengthen organizations. The director said the more positive and forward-thinking ideas an organization can have, the further the organization will flourish. Little calls the Sonic Boom a “micro-environment” that reflects the world around it.
“Having a Hispanic drum major speaks to the influence the Sonic Boom has on all ethnicities, not just African Americans. This can also be seen with the viral sensation Justin Heideman (white drum major) from Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama,” said Little, who also serves as instructor of music in the Department of Music. “He does a phenomenal job with adopting the J5 drum major style and has gotten major publicity for it. Our style is definitely second to none, and it all originated here at JSU.”
The J5 style may have originated at JSU, but that has not stopped former band members from sharing it with youth throughout the nation. Growing up in Dallas, Meda said he was introduced to the sound of the Sonic Boom and the J5 style as a student at Skyline High School. Meda’s band director, Carlton Williams, is a JSU graduate and former member of the Boom. Williams and Little are also longtime friends.
“Mr. Williams is one of the many outstanding alumni that we have in the field of music education who teaches in the secondary sector. We rely heavily on our alumni to send us quality students because they know exactly what we look for,” Little said.
“My freshman year (at Skyline), I had so much energy in the stands. Mr. Williams had to tell me all the time to calm down,” said 19-year-old Meda from his Texas home.
During his junior year, Meda auditioned and was chosen to be a Skyline drum major. It’s a position he held until his graduation. In fall 2019, Meda began his studies at Jackson State University, making him the first in his family to pursue higher education. He shares that title with his twin brother, Kevin Garcia Meda, who is enrolled at a community college in Dallas.
“I wanted to go to Jackson State because of the Boom. I like the way they were disciplined,” Meda explained. “The weight that they carry. Plus, the people. They have amazing band directors like Dr. Little, Dr. (Lowell) Hollinger and Mr. (Kevon) Johnson.”
Motivated by a belief in himself, Meda began to prepare for J5 auditions held in early March 2020.
“I wanted to make history. I wanted to become the first Hispanic member of J5, and it happened. I just had to put the work in and get it done,” he said.
Meda shared that the band’s upperclassmen and his fellow bandmates, which include Skyline alums such as Xavian Mitchell and Paolo Martinez, were also supportive throughout the process. He also attributes his success to technology and mentorship. Meda said Coach Isaiah Hicks and Tyler Battle are JSU alums and former members of the Boom. Both men work at Skyline, where Battle trains the Skyline drum majors.
“I would FaceTime them (including Williams) like during winter break and other days to see what I could do to better myself and my moves,” said Meda, who chose the song “Off the Wall” by Michael Jackson for his JSU tryout.
According to Meda, those vying to join the J5 must go through a series of challenges that include an attention sequence, conducting and a dance routine.
“We have to show the band director that we can conduct the band without them being there. We also need to show that we can control the mace (ceremonial staff) because drum majors use a mace with their moves,” he explains. “Then, you have your individual routine where you can be creative and make up your moves and stuff.”
Little contends that those who doubt the Dallas native can meet the challenges of J5 style are in for a surprise.
That’s because he totally crushes misguided, stereotypical expectations once you see him perform. He has a special type of ‘flair’ and ‘swag’ when he executes the moves,” Little said. “Headed by our newly appointed head drum major, Nathanial Keener, this 2020-2021 J5 group will be second to none.”
In addition to Meda, Little announced the members of the Sonic Boom of the South’s J5 as Kenner, a sophomore civil-engineering major, Mitchell, a freshman graphic design major, Gemal Duncan, a freshman electrical engineering major; and Gregory Turner, a freshman music technology major.
Meda shouts out Williams for traveling to his audition and recording it. He said that his mother learned of the news through Williams’ Facebook post, and she was moved to tears. His brother, Kevin, was equally enthusiastic. “He was like, ‘I love you, bro. I’m proud of you, man. You can do whatever you want to do,” said Meda, who plans to become a pediatrician.
“Of course, my mom, she always wanted — you know Hispanic parents — they always want you to be a doctor,” he said, laughing. “You know, I’m doing it for my mom, but mostly for me, because I really want to work with kids.”
As for right now, Meda said he is enjoying his college experience with the Boom. He noted that one of the most memorable moments thus far was the last football game of the season.
“I think it’s every freshmen’s favorite part because of the bonding we did afterward. We took pictures together, and all your hard work in the fall feels like it’s finally paid off,” he said. “My section became my family. My section leader, Paola Martinez, is like a mother because she’s helping to raise me up in the Boom. Everyone is like aunties, uncles, sisters and brothers. We’re a family.”