FAMU drum major laid to rest
11/30/2011, 7 a.m.
Band director fired over death In the aftermath of the sudden and untimely death of Florida A & M University (FAMU) drum major, Robert Champion, Jr., 26, who died after an November 19th band performance at the Florida Classic half-time show, his parents have sought legal counsel. They say they intend to file suit against the University. "It needs to stop,"said Pam Champion, Champion's mother in recent televised press conference. "No one wants to hear your son collapsed and died. We want to make sure it doesn't happen again." Champions funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday,November 30 at Beulah Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia. Friends and family paid their final respects on Tuesday at an emotional viewing.In todays world of social media, hundreds of people have written messages, sharing their memories of Champion. A tribute video can currently be seen on YouTube.Two friends shared the following: This is not the legacy of the Marching 100 that Dr. Foster wanted to leave. RIP Robert. We miss you. Another friend added, This tribute in no way can bring Robert Champion back to his family or erase the events. Yet it reaches the heart of Rattlers everywhere regardless of opinion. It shows the true character of our foundation. Champions death leaves many questions unanswered. His family, in order to gain answers and closure, has hired Gainesville-based Attorney Christopher Chestnut, 30, has been hired to represent the family. "It appears this school has done a cost-benefit analysis of hazing in the band they concluded the benefit of hazing outweighed the cost, Chestnut said. That cost Robert his life." Hazing continues today but is often secretive Champions death is allegedly linked to hazing, a term used to describe various rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group. Hazing has been a dark culture that stems from sororities and fraternities across the country. In Florida, hazing is considered a third degree felony. I am very sad this happened to Robert, said a current band member who wished to remain anonymous. If you had known Robert you would know how dedicated he was to our band he loved FAMU. Since the death of Champion the future of the universitys renowned band has been put in jeopardy. Out of respect for the family of Robert Champion and in the best interests of the university, I have decided to suspend, indefinitely, any and all performances and engagements for bands and other ensembles under the auspices of the music department, including the Marching 100, said James H. Ammons, FAMUs president. This suspension is effective immediately and will remain in effect during the investigations until otherwise authorized by me. In addition, Ammons announced an internal eight-person task force that will investigate the inner workings of the Marching 100. The list includes Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth along with Quincy [Florida] Chief of Police Walt McNeil.Former State Senator Al Lawson will spearhead the investigation. Was bands director aware of hazing? Dr. Julian White, the bands director since 1998, was fired last week as result of Champions death. His last official day is December 22nd. White joined FAMU's faculty in 1972 and has been director of the Marching 100 since 1998. The reason for Whites firing has been announced and Ammons was unavailable for comment.Ivery Luckey, a clarinet player, said he was hazed the same year White became director. In 2004, the FAMU Board of Trustees (BOT) awarded Luckey $50,000 for having being struck 300 times with a paddle that required hospitalization. Another situation was documented in 2001 where the university awarded $1.8 million to a trumpet player who suffered temporary kidney failure after being badly beaten. Solomon Badger, chairman of the BOT released a statement regarding the investigation of the death ofChampion. "The members of the Board of Trustees are deeply saddened by the loss of our student Robert Champion, he said. Each of us will keep his family and the FAMU family in our prayers." The chairman added that the BOT has is working closely with the administration and law enforcement agencies to make sure justice is served for the Champion family.Given the serious nature of hazing and due to the number of injuries and deaths that have occurred because of this practice, presidents from other Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were contacted for comment. Bethune-Cookman Universitys president, Dr. Trudie Kibbie Reed, was traveling and could not be reached. Florida Memorial University president, Dr. Henry Lewis III declined comment. By Randy Gricergrice@miamitimesonline.com