Spring 2003 Contents OAM Home Oberlin Online Home
Feature Stories
Money Matters
Family Tree, Oberlin roots
Operation Internship
[cover story] Fury and the Sound
David Rees Gets His (Bleep) On
Around Tappan Square
Alumni Profiles
The Last Word
One More Thing
Inside Oberlin
Staff Box

Alumni Notes


Stepping Out

Lamont O'Neil '91 knew that he needed to bring something unique to Junior High School 231 in Queens, New York, nine years ago. Many of the students there lacked self-awareness, confidence, and any respect for authority.

Combining his dance experience with "sound moral principals that teach young men how to be men," he formed the Nubian Gents, an extracurricular male step group that combines movement with contemporary gospel music. Stepping is a tradition forged on college campuses in black fraternities and sororities out of the African heritage of speech, song, and dance.

"I did a presentation one day, and the students came out in droves," says O'Neil, a
former dean at the school and current part-time teacher, who is now working to carry the program to other institutions. The Gents are affiliated with New Life of New York City, Inc., a nonprofit that uses the foundations of Christian faith to help at-risk urban teens. The team of 50 "Gents," who range in age from 9-17, has ministered in churches, youth camps, and fairs across the U.S. and in the Czech Republic, Spain, Holland, and South Africa. Its popularity sparked interest for an all-female group; Feminine Fire was launched last year by an eager volunteer.

Far more than just a stepping group, the Gents benefit from a mentoring relationship with O'Neil, who encourages members to talk freely about their real-life problems during rehearsals. "This is a labor of love, but something I feel called to do," he says. "I wanted to change these students at the core. The step component came about because I was looking for something that would attract them."

Oberlin economics major Dimy Jeannot, a member of the Gents while in high school, stuck with the program because of the comfortable, positive environment it offered. Today, he is a chaperone and mentor with the group. "I'm here at Oberlin because of Mr. O," he says.

­Yvonne Gay Fowler