Mourning's 'Groove' celebrates 15 years for kids

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MIAMI (AP) - Alonzo Mourning never thought he would spend 15 years crusading for thousands of South Florida's impoverished youth.

He has no plans to stop now, either.

His 15th annual weekend - more like a week, really - of charitable events dubbed "Zo's Summer Groove" is underway again, and gets started in earnest Friday. By the time it wraps up late Sunday night, Mourning will have hosted a golf tournament, a comedy show featuring Dave Chappelle, a star-studded gala dinner headlined by Alicia Keys and Cee Lo Green, and about a half-dozen other events along the way.

He's raised over $7 million since the Groove began, and is eyeing another highly profitable weekend this time around.

"Never thought that we would make it this far," Mourning told The Associated Press. "But I'm a strong believer that when you do the right things with the right intentions, everything works out for you. My wife and I have had no hidden agendas at all in the 15 years we've been doing this. We've tried to make all the right decisions as far as helping young people in the community reach their goals. We're proud of this milestone and the city has embraced us."

This is a different sort of Groove this year, since because of the NBA lockout, players - even some of Mourning's former teammates - cannot take part since Mourning works now as an executive for the Miami Heat. So there's no game with the likes of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and other NBA stars at the end of this Groove.

Mourning has high expectations for the 15th anniversary edition anyway.

"We've got a lot of work to do, and a lot of good to do," Mourning said.

The epicenter of Mourning's year-round charitable work is the Overtown Youth Center, a facility where students learn both academics and life skills. It also serves as a safe place in a rough neighborhood, and whatever goes on there seems to be working: Mourning proudly points out that all of the graduates from the center's school program go on to college.

"We're keeping them alive," Mourning said. "We're keeping them off the street and out of harm's way, away from things that can take them away from the progress we're trying to make."

The idea for the Groove was born when the Heat played at the now-demolished Miami Arena, and Mourning would drive through the Overtown neighborhood every day on his way to work. It started small, with Mourning thinking it could just be a weekend for families to get out and enjoy one another's company with an eye on charity.

Then he soon got involved with the youth center and other child-advocacy programs, and the Groove quickly started building.

"When this was created, it was a community event, period," Mourning said. "I wanted to create a weekend where everybody in the community and everybody in the family had something to attend and they could enjoy. It was kind of created to be a vehicle for people that want to give and just didn't know how to, but they could trust that their efforts would go towards the end result - educating young people."

The Overtown center accommodates 275 children for its annual school program, and is maxed out. Donors are now being asked to sponsor other students for $4,800 a year, and Mourning is still working on developing new and bigger facilities in order to reach out toward more kids.

Every year, he sees more progress. And though his playing days are done, Mourning believes he can continue to be as impactful in Miami as ever.

"The rewarding part is to see these young people continue to succeed and continue to do the things that we as adults want to see young people do," Mourning said. "That's the rewarding part. That's what inspires me to continue to do this. There's no way that I could turn my back on this process and give up on this process. That's the only way we're going to continue to be successful."

Also Wednesday, Mourning was sued over a weekend traffic crash that raised questions about whether he improperly left the scene. The lawsuit seeking unspecified damages was filed on behalf of 21-year-old William Candelario, who sustained head injuries in the rollover crash early Sunday near Miami Beach. Candelario said he has little memory of what happened and his attorney said the lawsuit is aimed at finding answers.

"The question we have is how, why, would Mr. Mourning leave this accident?" attorney Spencer Aronfeld said. "We're not on a witch hunt trying to destroy one of South Florida's most respected and beloved celebrities. We're simply trying to get answers."

In a brief interview, Mourning said he came upon the crash scene but declined to say whether he struck one of the vehicles. Sgt. Thomas Pikul, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman, said investigators determined Mourning's Porsche struck Candelario's Audi a short time after the Audi collided with a third vehicle.

Mourning acknowledged leaving the scene. Investigators said he returned about 40 minutes later, in another car driven by his wife, Tracy.

"I left and came right back. Left and came back. There was no panic at all because I didn't do anything wrong. There was a current accident already in progress," the 41-year-old Mourning said.

It's against state law to be involved in an accident and leave the scene. Pikul said no charges had been filed as of midafternoon Wednesday.


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