’Roots’ star to visit MU, discuss strokes

Actor’s visit is part of health school’s 25th anniversary celebration.
Friday, May 7, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:11 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ben Vereen has been nominated for an Emmy and won a Tony, but tonight he will discuss perhaps one of his greatest triumphs: overcoming a stroke and returning to the stage.

MU’s School of Health Professions is bringing Vereen to Jesse Auditorium as a part of its 25th anniversary celebration.

Because this is National Stroke Awareness Month, Vereen — whose stroke followed a serious car accident in 1992 — will combine a live stage performance with a personal discussion about his road to recovery.

“I want to inspire someone who is going through the same thing I went through,” Vereen said Thursday.

“By talking to people, it allows me to get the message out to those who have had a stroke or those who are going through the experience. For me, it was quite a wake-up call.”

On Saturday the school will hold its annual alumni breakfast at 8:30 a.m. followed by a stroke research and rehabilitation workshop at 10 a.m. in Lewis Hall on the MU campus.

While building stroke awareness, the school also is trying to make the community aware of the school’s functions.

“We fill three major components — training future educators and students to become professionals, committing to service and outreach and conducting cutting-edge research in our continually aging society,” said Meichele Foster, chairwoman of the anniversary committee.

Vereen credits the efforts of therapists, orderlies, nurses and medical facilities like those at the School of Health Professions for his recovery. He calls them “angels.”

After his stroke, Vereen, 57, said he thought he would never dance again, but determination, encouragement from a friend and faith got him through.

“I had two replaced knees, and I learned how to dance in a wheelchair until I could stand on my feet,” he said.

Vereen said that audiences can expect to see a Vereen that is perhaps even better than he was before his stroke.

“They can expect to see me in all my glory,” he said.

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