Pam Champion, his mother, said she created the Robert D. Champion Drum Major for Change Foundation last December, a month after the Nov. 19 death of her son after a hazing ritual aboard a FAMU band bus.
“We put together a foundation to end the senselessness of hazing,” his mother said.
She says she and her husband, Robert Sr., have been aggressively trying to develop a program to take into the schools.
Their son, a graduate of Southwest DeKalb High, was a member of the Marching Panthers during his high school career there. The Champions still live in Decatur.
“We want to give the real picture of what hazing is,” she said. “The dangers, a visual of what it actually is in true color.”
On the day he died, her 26-year-old son and the FAMU band were in Orlando for the Florida Classic.
Orlando officials ruled his death a homicide after an autopsy showed he died of internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma.
More than a dozen people have been charged, and Champion’s parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against FAMU.
Pam Champion said working through the foundation created in her son’s name is helping her work through the pain of her loss.
“Robert was 1 year old when we brought him into this house, and there are memories in every crack and crevice of this house,” she said. “It’s not easy, and it’s not a journey I would wish on anybody, and it’s something that was so needless.”
The nonprofit is already laying groundwork for change. The first program under way is C.H.A.M.P., Creating Hazing Awareness With Mentality Progression.
Inspired by college students, the program aims to change mind-sets from the start, by educating middle and high school students on the dangers of hazing and bullying. Professionals in law and medicine and other volunteers will be recruited, along with people who have participated in hazing – people who have hazed as well as hazing victims.
“We want them to get the real story,” Champion said Tuesday.
A pilot of the program, which is still being developed, was conducted at a Clayton County school in February. In September, the Champions set up a tent at Commissioner Larry Johnson’s annual DeKalb Walks for the Health of It at Exchange Park to educate families about hazing.
Champion also wants to shred the shroud of secrecy that cloaks hazing rituals.
She’s looking for people who are willing to tell their stories, anonymously, if so desired. A contact form is available on the foundation’s Web site. The site also posts a hotline number for reporting hazing and bullying.
“People who are speaking out, calling the hotline number, need to be recognized as heroes,” she said.
Robert D. Champion Drum Major for Change T-shirts, available on the site for $15, were worn by students in September during Haze Awareness Week at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, N.C.
The Champions have been featured on national and local news programs, and their foundation has participated in numerous events at schools, churches, conferences and out in the community over the past year. They were at the news conference announcing the National Anti-Hazing/Anti-Violence Task Force conference held in January in Washington, D.C., and in August, they were a part of the annual Social Justice Awareness Sunday at Bethel Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla.
The Champion foundation also has partnered with the nonprofit M.U.S.I.C. Inc. – Musicians United to Serve in Cohesion – foundation that mentors high school and middle school students, seeking to improve their skills in music and academics and to help eradicate hazing and bullying. The organization is led by Byron Jackson, a Pine Ridge Elementary School teacher who was a friend and fellow band member of Robert Champion.
Jackson said M.U.S.I.C. is working with 30 to 40 students and wants to help set “some black-and-white parameters” on hazing.
“In my own personal opinion, there are so many gray areas with hazing. How do we differentiate between calisthenics and forced calisthenics, horseplay versus hazing, or a casual drink versus forced alcohol consumption?”
The Champion foundation is on Facebook, and the song “Champion (You’ll Be Remembered)” is available on iTunes.
It was released by Grammy Award-winning songwriter, producer and artist Cassius D. Kalb, one of his friends and former band mates. All proceeds go the foundation.
Pam Champion received a letter from Bryce McIntosh, a 9-year-old boy from Lake City, S.C., in January. He marches with Kingstree High School.
He had drawn a picture of Robert in his drum major uniform.
“He said he wanted to be just like Robert,” said Champion, who has spoken with the McIntosh family. “When you hear something like that, it just strikes you deeply.”
Champion said her son wasn’t perfect, but that it was a pleasure to be his mother.
“I’d give it all up in a heartbeat just to see him again, but that’s not going to happen. So what I can focus on is making sure that no one else has to go through this.”