Autistic brothers excel in Southern's ‘Human Jukebox’
When brothers Micah and Josiah Frank hit the field with the Southern University Marching Band on Saturday in the Georgia Dome you won't be able to discern that they are a little different.
The fact that they are members of the "Human Jukebox," declared by many to be one of the best, if not the best, college marching band in the country is a testament to the brothers, the university and their mother.
The Frank brothers are autistic. People with autism typically have problems with social interaction, communicating with others, and behavioral challenges. The autism makes them special, their performance makes them just another member of the marching band, said Director of Bands Nathan Haymer.
"I don't have many problems at all. I love what we do," said Micah Frank, 22.
"They are some of the best marchers that we have," said Haymer. "Once they get the routine, they are perfect."
The Honda Battle of Bands begins at 3 p.m., Saturday, January 24, in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome. The band has been practicing for the past few weeks in preparation of their performance that will also involve the crème de la crème of bands from historically black college and universities.
Southern joins Alabama State University, Bethune-Cookman University, Howard University, Jackson State University, North Carolina A & T University, Talladega College and Tennessee State University in Saturday's Battle of the Bands.
Haymer predicts that the famed "Human Jukebox" routines will be ready and so will the Frank brothers.
It's the routine that helps the Frank brothers on and off the field.
Both say they receive special attention in Southern's Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) where they are assigned counselors to help them with studying and preparing for classes. They also discuss with them ways to deal with any social issues and problems they may have around campus.
Getting things done is tough sometimes, said Josiah Frank. "In school, it depends on the class and on how the teacher teaches. If the teacher teaches from a lecture I have to take notes in the class and start the next day with my previous notes."
"I need to have my notes explained to me the next day," the trombone player said.
Micah Frank transferred to Southern from another Louisiana college. The trumpet player said things did not go well at the other school.
"I had roadblocks there," he said. "I didn't have the right support and I was discouraged often. I have more support here. It's like a family here."
Both brothers said the help they receive from CTLE, Disability Services, teachers and friends, has been a boon for them.
Each person with autism is different. They range from those with "classic" or "Kanner's" autism, who have very little social or communication skills with severe behavioral problems, to those with Asperger's syndrome who have difficulty socializing with others, but can hold jobs and maintain an independent life.
Haymer said he was initially reticent about bringing the brothers into the marching band. "Their high school band director talked to me about them. I was thinking that a high school band is a lot slower than the fast pace of how we do things," he said.
Haymer said he spoke with their mother, too, and decided to give them a chance. "We had to work with them a little slower at first, but once they caught on they have been great."
"In fact, I think music is great for them," Haymer said. "They both excel at it."
The Franks' mother, Latonza Gillie had her reservations, too. "They were not accustomed to what an HBCU band does," she said. "I was a little apprehensive about whether they could do it along with handling classes. But they love music."
"My biggest concern was that someone would be there for them because with autism they don't have the social skills to advocate for themselves," said Gillie who is a special education teacher in Desoto Parish. "But everyone has been wonderful."
"Everyone at Southern has been great. They have worked with me and talked with the people who can help Josiah and Micah," Gillie said. "They even asked a vice-chancellor to assist with Micah's transfer."
Micah Frank said, "We learn a lot by repetition. We learn better by observation. Once we learn the drill we are okay."
Gillie said she decided to become a special education teacher because she felt she would be her sons' best teacher. "I would not allow them to use autism as a reason for failure. I pushed them hard. But I loved them hard, too," she said.
The Honda Battle of the Bands was created to celebrate, support and recognize the excellence of Black college marching bands and the unique academic experience offered by HBCU. Honda annually awards more than $200,000 in grants to participating marching bands during the program period.