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The Music Moves Him : At his traveling dance parties, DJ Dion Grant pumps up the volume--and, he hopes studentmorale. He wants to show kids that school doesn't have to be a downer.

August 29, 1994|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA / Los Angels Times

As a teen-ager, Dion Grant looked forward to weekly school dances, saving his favorite trousers and shirt for the gym parties. Today, at 48, Grant still joins the kids on the dance floor, proving he can move with the best of 'em.

"Nowadays, these kinds of activities don't happen as much," Grant says of the booming Banda music that sends Crozier Middle School students, and principal Jerrie Martin, into a quebradita Latin dance frenzy.

"A lot of kids don't want to stay even a minute longer at school than they need to," Grant says, which is why he started the KDION Radio program, a traveling dance party complete with sound system, record library and simulated radio broadcast handled by students.

The parties are Grant's attempt to "reinforce the notion to kids that school is not a place to be bored, not a downer place."

For certain, on this sweltering afternoon, Crozier is the coolest place in Inglewood.

Student Council President Veronica Guzman, 13, who wants to be an astronaut, welcomes the students as Robert Douglas, also 13, in an Ohio State Buckeyes T-shirt hanging to his knees, alternates between spinning records and playing CDs. He takes his cues from student emcees, who read a script written by Grant and his staff from the School Entertainment and Activities Program, or SEAP. Grant launched the Los Angeles-based youth-marketing firm in 1974. The goal: to boost students' morale.

At the microphone before a packed room is Ahmid Kabba, 14, who would like to be a professional disc jockey. He clears his voice and then, with gusto, leads his classmates in a Crozier pep rally, spelling out his school's letters, each one resoundingly repeated.

"Tell me, is Crozier No. 1?" he shouts. A deafening "No. 1!" is the response. "Word!" concludes Kabba. Douglas starts Arrested Development's "Ease My Mind" as students hit the floor in hip-hop gyrations.

For the next hour, the music is interspersed with messages from Grant over the microphone "to keep graffiti off the walls, keep your campuses clean, respect your teachers and have fun."

"Let me hear you say, 'happiness,' " Grant encourages the crowd in his disc jockey voice. And no one is happier than Grant--the father of five children ranging in age from 7 to 24--who is surrounded by young people vying for his attention and a chance at the music controls or behind the mike.

"When the kids hear that Dion is here, it's like saying Santa is coming," says Marcia Hazelton, Crozier assistant principal. "I've been here 17 years and there's no program that compares to his. He uses a unique motivational technique to get kids to see that school is a positive place to be. He uses music, the universal language."

*

Born in Texarkana, Tex., Grant was about 10 when he moved to Los Angeles during the civil rights movement to live with his grandmother. He threw himself into studying and graduated from Dorsey High School, attended Cal State L.A. and then was drafted. In 1968, after a stint with the Army in Vietnam, he returned to Los Angeles and pursued his love for music--collecting it and getting paid to play it at parties.

During the disco era, Grant worked as a consultant to club owners and was an original member of the Southern California Disco Assn. "As a live disc jockey I played for some of the largest crowds and headlined weekend shows," he recalls. Today, his reputation as the ultimate record-spinner--and his knack for getting people to dance--has earned him the title of "Bar and Bat Mitzvah King" on the local party circuit.

In 1974, Grant visited Dorsey High to see some of his old teachers. He was stunned.

"There were guards at the doors. There were pimps outside the school and guys selling drugs on the street. It blew me away."

He talked to some students. "I asked the kids, 'What's wrong? Why is this happening?' They told me they were bored. So for the next two years I was on and off campuses from Dorsey to Beverly Hills, talking to kids who all told me the same thing: They were bored and turning to drugs and alcohol, leaving campuses in droves because nobody wanted to be there.

"I knew the power of music. I said, 'Why not put something together using music to influence kids, to keep the kids coming to school?' When I was a student I remember how schools were the social centers. Schools were there for the kids and their friends. It was our home away from home."

Responding to the students, Grant began SEAP, a profit-making venture working with record companies and artists looking to boost new music and musical acts to the teen market.

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