Sun04202014

Opinion

Southern Heritage Classic: A Memphis tradition

As the son of parents that attended HBCUs (Dad, Grambling University and Mom, Southern University), I was exposed and connected to the longstanding tradition of the black college football experience.
 
 Bernal E. Smith II

As the son of parents that attended HBCUs (Dad, Grambling University and Mom, Southern University), I was exposed and connected to the longstanding tradition of the black college football experience. As a kid, my mom and dad would attend the Bayou Classic in New Orleans, where their alma maters have paired off against one another since 1974.

Naturally, when Fred Jones and Bill Thomas (former Tennessee State University athletic director and football coach) had the vision, creativity and courage to establish what would become the tradition known as the Southern Heritage Classic, there was excitement in the Smith household about the possibilities of the event in Memphis.

I remember like yesterday attending the first game, it was the year I graduated high school and started college (1990). I bought a new outfit, got dressed up, put on my best smell good and prepared to experience all the excitement of attending this big time event! Being on my own for the first time (dorm life) added to the excitement.

Although my parents and I had discussed attending the game, I would attend with one of my best friends from high school. (Me embracing my newly found independence.) I truly felt like a real adult and did a thing or two I was probably still (legally) too young to do, but it was part of my experience of the game and growing up! I can recall walking through the stands almost the whole game (we must have done 20 laps around the stadium), sitting down for only brief intervals and of course at halftime for the battle of the bands!! It’s truly an experience I’ll never forget and one that’s kept me coming back.

Twenty-two seasons later, the Southern Heritage Classic is a Memphis tradition, the biggest and most anticipated event for African Americans in the Tri-State area. It’s such a phenomenal social gathering, allowing for connections, reconnections and new memories to be established year in and year out. It is also serves as a significant economic boost for Memphis with last year’s game having a $16.2 million economic impact on the city, according to a report prepared by Dr. Richard Irwin, director of the University of Memphis Bureau of Sport and Leisure Commerce.

Just as important, it demonstrates the power of vision and ingenuity and shows that we can do “BIG” things in Memphis when we make up our mind to do so. This event serves as a fun time for so many but also stands as an inspiration to many young African Americans about the possibilities of entrepreneurship and innovation. I know that Fred Jones has certainly been an inspiration and mentor for me. As I continue the process of leading the transformation of the Tri-State Defender from old school newspaper into a world-class multi-media entity, the opportunity to connect and collaborate with the Southern Heritage Classic as a media partner is significant and exciting.

My hats go off to corporate Memphis for its commitment to and continuous support of this great gathering. I also congratulate my friend Fred on another fantastic year for football, food and friends at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.

And too all the fans, the tailgaters and all those that are preparing to “kick-it” this weekend, let’s continue to show the world that we do it best in the Big M-Town, particularly at the Southern Heritage Classic, a true Memphis tradition!!

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