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Paralyzed athlete brings inspiration and change to the SU community

Despite what anyone says, it only takes one dedicated person to truly make a difference.

The members of Public Affairs and Civic Engagement at Salisbury University had the Founder and Executive Director of the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education Incorporated Van Brooks to speak on how one person can change the hearts and minds of others.

In Brooks’ speech, he shared how he grew up in the city of West Baltimore. His passion for football earned him recognition from a number of division-one schools.

Brooks' path to success was very clear to him until Sept. 25, 2004, when an accident rendered him paralyzed from the neck down and unable to walk, eat or even breathe on his own.

Van Brooks spends time giving back to his community because of all that his community has given him. Pictured: Brooks organized and participated in a community-wide clean-up in 2016. Photo by Andre Chung

“That was very devastating,” Brooks said. “And it was just something that I had to really try and figure out how I was gonna move through life.”

He continued his high school education from the hospital and later graduated from Loyola Blakefield.

Brooks was told that he would not be able to attend college, but he proved the critics wrong and earned a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Towson University.

Despite being told he could never walk again, Brooks later walked his first steps on Sept. 27, 2012. After seeing countless numbers of volunteers who helped him through his time of need come from across the country to congratulate him, Brooks was inspired to do the same for his community of West Baltimore County.

“So many people helped get me to where I am today,” Brooks said.

Senior Kaylee Payne attended the PACE event out of curiosity on what more she could do to give back to the Salisbury community.

Payne often goes to the Wicomico Humane Society to volunteer her time walking the dogs, but Brooks' speech made her want to do more.

"I can't say that I've ever been through such a traumatic experience as Van Brooks went through," Payne said. "But I can say that after hearing his story, it just goes to show that in being one person, you may not think you can make an impact on the world, but if everyone had that mindset, nothing would ever change."

In 2015, with little funding and only a small following, Brooks built the Safe Alternative Youth Center in West Baltimore County with the help of community outreach and the connections he made from all of the volunteers who helped him.

“We all can do and have the impact that we want in our community,” Brooks said. “Through cracking the code of connecting, we can all come together to achieve a common goal.”

There were three important goals discussed for the future of Safe Alternative. The first goal was to finish development of the online platform referred to as “Maryland Connected.”

The online platform gave way to the possibility of instant communication between any individuals in Maryland who are interested in finding areas to volunteer for.

The next goal was to provide all middle schools and high schools access to Americorps resources for education, hands-on experience and connections for different career opportunities.

Lastly, Brooks made the goal to finish the development of a second Safe Alternative Youth Center to provide more children in West Baltimore with the proper education that they need.

Brooks hopes that through his experiences and his foundation, he can inspire others to have the same impact on our community that he has had with his.

For more information on Safe Alternative, go to

To learn more about volunteer opportunities here at SU, go to



Staff writer

Featured photo: Andre Chung/NBC News image.

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