Florida A&M University's music department toured South Florida this past weekend to recruit high school students and promote its anti-hazing stance. After their drum major Robert Champion of the Marching 100 was beaten to death in 2011 during a hazing incident, the university is trying to get young musicians to feel safe at their institution.
Thaddeus Stegall, Groove 87's field commander, said the media painted a "horrid picture" of FAMU's music department. He recited a poem that made it very clear the university does not condone hazing. In it, he said:
"Let's break down the word 'hazing.'
A problem that seems to be everywhere that is taking us nowhere because it is stopping us dead in our tracks, and keeping us from progressing as a people..."
Brandon Cunningham is a senior trumpet player for Groove 87. He says all students are now required to sign an anti-hazing agreement to show their commitment and pledge to not participate in any form of hazing.
"We have to acknowledge that Robert Champion was a member of our department. He was a member of our band, and he was a friend to a lot of us," said Cunningham. "The fact that he lost his life in the midst of a hazing incident is very personal to us because we lost more than just a classmate -- we lost a friend."
The ensemble played a mini-concert for high-school students who would then audition for FAMU's music department.
Among those students was Romello Spears, a senior trombone player from Miami Northwestern Senior High School. He says he respects that FAMU came to tell their side of the story.
"Everyone says, 'Hey, don't go to FAMU. They're just going to haze you. If you join the band, you're going to get the crap beat out of you,'" said Spears.
But he also said he just loves music and isn't worried about hazing. Neither is North Miami High senior and euphonium player Lisa Andre.
"FAMU is my dream school," says Andre. "I love FAMU regardless. I was going to go even with all the hazing stuff 'cause they're trying to stop. So that's good to hear."
Andre says Groove 87's mini-concert in Miami almost brought her to tears. To view a clip of the ensemble's performance, play on the video below.