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FAMU, alumni rally for injured students

Florida A&M students and alumni rallied Monday in support of a student who was paralyzed and two fellow performers who remain hospitalized after their van overturned en route to Pensacola’s downtown Mardi Gras parade last weekend.

Students in Tallahassee are organizing prayer vigils in dorms and asking how to send cards, flowers and other gifts, said Patricia Green Powell, vice president of student affairs.

FAMU alumni in Pensacola met Monday night to organize efforts to provide the injured and their relatives with food, moral support and shelter if needed, said Elvin McCorvey, president of the Pensacola alumni chapter and an Escambia County Utilities Authority board member.

“It really has been a tremendous outpouring of kindness from students and around the community,” Green Powell said. “When a (FAMU) Rattler has fallen, we all come to the rescue and support that fallen Rattler.”

The Rhythm Rushers, the 20- plus member group that planned to perform, had an emergency meeting Monday night to update members on how their friends were doing and explore what they can do to help.

They worried especially about Lavares Brown, 24, an energetic and popular member of the group who suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury. He remains in critical condition at Baptist Hospital.

“What has happened to Lavares I can’t imagine. I don’t think anyone can,” said Anita Davis, a member of the group since 1998. “It’s like being free today and not being free the next. If you’re born paralyzed that’s one thing, but for it to happen in mid-life is completely different.”

Kamal Cooper, 22, another of the accident victims, said Monday that friends have told him Brown is awake and communicates by nodding and blinking.

Cooper, who suffered a fractured pelvis and a broken bone connected to his hip, is in West Florida Hospital. He was scheduled for surgery Monday night or today. He will remain hospitalized for a week and will have to use a wheelchair for two months.

Davis did not go on the trip to Pensacola but greeted the uninjured group members on their return to Tallahassee on Saturday night.

“We’re all just devastated,” she said. “Everybody is very tight knit. Most of the people in our group are roommates. Most who aren’t roommates are always congregating at some member’s house. It’s tough on everybody.”

The Florida Highway Patrol reported that four of five occupants were thrown from a van that rolled over after driver Vanessa Clarke lost control about 12:30 p.m. Saturday on Interstate 10 near State Road 87.

Clarke, 24, was cited for careless driving. She and Jeanette Oscar, 23, were released from Baptist Hospital over the weekend.

The other injured student is Zesarae Bodie, 21, who suffered a fractured pelvis and broken ankle. She remains at Baptist Hospital. She was told to stay off her feet for a month.

The Rhythm Rushers practice Junkanoo, an art form inspired by centuries-old slave festivals in the West Indies. The colorful processions involve costumes, dancing, drumming and bell and horn playing.

Brown is a bass drummer, and Bodie is a dancer. Saturday was to be the first performance for Cooper, who supports the group. He was going to carry a float he and other members made of light, brightly colored materials.

Cooper, an architecture major, said Monday he remembers talking to Brown during the drive about plans to go to spring break next weekend in Panama City.

He said he luckily granted Bodie’s request that he put on a seat belt minutes before the crash. Still he was thrown with Bodie through the van’s windshield and landed about 20 yards away.

He wanted to thank a man who stopped to help him.

“The gentleman really made it much easier,” Cooper said. “He seemed to know what he was doing. He loosened my clothes to help me breathe better. I was quite confused, of course, and in some excruciating pain, and it really helped.”

Tony Scriven, a junior at FAMU and a bugle player with the Rhythm Rushers, is praying for the injured. He grew up with Brown in the Bahama island of Nassau.

“He’s just a cool guy, I mean easy going, easy to talk to, friendly guy,” Scriven said of the business major. “We’re so shaken up about it. The way it happened is so freaky. I just can’t believe it.”

Want to help

Florida A&M University is paying for the lodging of the relatives of those injured while they are in Pensacola. Patricia Green Powell, vice president for Student Affairs, is coordinating relief efforts for the families’ other needs.

The FAMU International Student Support Fund has been established to receive donations. Anyone interested can call (850) 599-3183.

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