By Jessi Mitchell

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Bands from around the world travel to the Big Apple for the parade of the season, but one school marching band is a “force” to be reckoned with.

You will hear them before you see them. Hampton University’s Marching Force is taking the Tri-State Area by storm.

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Hampton was the only Historically Black College or University to get an invitation to the 2021 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. A series of pop-up pep rallies at NJIT and Science Park HS in Newark, New Jersey, and at Central Park, were all part of the plan for band director and HU alum Dr. Thomas L. Jones, Jr.

“They have their drill, they have their music and everything,” Jones said, “but at the same time, they are not ready because they don’t know what the spectacle is like.”

Jones has been in the parade before, marching while working with the Brooklyn Steppers. This, however, will be his first time in command.

“For me, it’s that added pressure,” said Jones. “It’s that bit of anxiety, but I think being in this position, it really makes it worth it and it’s almost like a full circle thing.”

This is the second parade appearance for Hampton’s Ebony Fire dance team member and Queens native Victoria Boyd, and she is feeling the pressure, too.

“So many more eyes are looking at us,” Boyd said, “especially because there’s so many HBCU bands. And for us to be the only one definitely means that we stand out and we just need to live up to that expectation.”

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Band manager Leah Faulk calls Harlem home. She is looking forward to her family cheering her on and is using her mom’s wisdom from her college days.

“She was a dancer,” Faulk explained, “so she’s just preparing us for the walk. You have to keep high energy, smiles all the time.”

All this excitement almost did not happen for Hampton. After being invited to the parade, the band banded together to find a way to get to New York. GoFundMe pages brought them up short, until Pepsi’s Stronger Together brand stepped in to help.

“To actually march in the parade thanks to our corporate sponsor, Pepsi Stronger Together, it’s a dream come true, honestly,” Faulk said.

“They raised over $100,000 for the purposes of our travel and our apparel,” Jones added, “so we’re really grateful for them.”

“I’m very grateful that I’m actually from such a place that people admire, like a lot of people have never been to New York,” said Boyd. “I’m very happy that I’m from here.”

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Look for Hampton’s Marching Force to move your feet while they strut the street.

Jessi Mitchell