Weekend marks 10th anniversary of drum major Champion’s death

The Black Archives now offers a tribute to the late drum major Robert Champion. Photo courtesy: Alea Mexile

FAMU will face off against its in-state rival Bethune-Cookman University at the Florida Blue Florida Classic on Saturday afternoon. As anticipation builds for Rattler Nation, the 10th anniversary of FAMU drum major Robert Champion’s death also approaches.

Ten years later it is still such a sensitive topic for Marching 100 band members, faculty and students, that everyone who was approached declined to comment about this painful chapter in both the Marching 100’s and FAMU’s recent history. For some it can feel like opening a wound that members are fighting to keep closed even 10 years later.

The brutal hazing incident led to charges against more than a half-dozen members of the band, most of who settled out of court and received probation for their part in Champion’s beating death. But at least two FAMU students served prison sentences for their roles in the ugly incident.

On Nov. 19, 2011, Robert Champion, Jr. died after a brutal and illegal hazing ritual members referred to as “Crossing Bus C.” It took place on a chartered band bus following the game, and it forever changed FAMU — and the Marching 100, which was quickly suspended for more than 18 months.

Champion was born in Decatur, Georgia, to Pam and Robert Champion, Sr. He was 26 at the time of his death in the early evening hours following the 2011 Florida Classic.

The Robert D. Champion Drum Major for Change Foundation was started by Champion’s parents. It provides insight on ending senseless violence that cripples families and limits the nation’s potential. According to the website beingachampion.org ,there are six strategic pathways that help the foundation accomplish its mission. They are support services, legislation, national initiatives, education and training, strategic partnerships and marketing, arts, and social media campaigns.

Following the painful incident, FAMU put several anti-hazing initiatives in place for all organizations on campus to keep prospective students and organization members safe. According to FAMU’s Anti-Hazing Regulation 2.028, the university has strict requirements in terms of what  defines hazing and consequences that follow in an event that hazing occurs.

“It is the policy of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University that any student(s), group(s) of students, or student organization(s) affiliated with the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University are prohibited from engaging in any form(s) of hazing activities,” according to the website.

Since the fatal hazing of Champion 10 years ago this weekend, the “incomparable” Marching 100 has continued to progress and grow with new policies and procedures governing the band. It has even changed its brand to “The Most Imitated Marching Band in America.” The Marching 100 has performed at  Super Bowls, inaugural parades, Pasadena Tournament of Roses parades, the summer Olympics and event at the Grammy awards.

Robert Champion’s death is still a troubling piece of history even a decade later for FAMU and those that he impacted in his life. The university’s efforts to remember the drum major are presented in the Meek- Eaton Black Archives Research Center and Museum for all students, faculty and visitors to observe.

This weekend, the classic will serve as a recognition and remembrance to those who are currently a part of the Marching 100, past members, and former drum major Robert Champion, Jr.