Fred Jones and his staff stage one of the region's most highly anticipated spectacles each fall: the Southern Heritage Classic Weekend. The mainstay's centerpiece is a long-held tradition of rivalry on the football field between Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., and Nashville's Tennessee State University.
Add to that the pageantry of luncheons, fashion shows, celebrity performances, champaign receptions and a fiercely-performed "Battle of the Bands." The result is a multi-million-dollar affair complete with thousands of alumni and students who converge on the city to witness it all.
How does Jones do it? How does he make it all happen? He gets by with a little help from his friends – namely, a dedicated group of volunteers called Ambassadors.
Led by Bhalander Joe Boyd and Shari Green, the organization works to support Classic events by tying up all the loose ends and taking care of those all-important small details. From stocking supplies to assisting celebrity guests, and everything in between, Ambassadors take their assignments very seriously.
"Volunteers have numbered as many as 200 in past years," said Boyd, "but we usually run more like 100, or a few more. That's how many we have this year."
Team leaders Boyd and Green are as passionate about the Southern Heritage Classic as they are about their "lifelong friendship."
"We've known each other since elementary school and church," said Boyd. "We started volunteering for the Classic under Maxine Maclin who taught us the details of coordinating tasks and team members. This is like my second job – 100 percent voluntary – but I love it. You just can't measure the rewards."
Boyd is a FedEx service sales representative, and Green is a transportation manager for the U.S. Postal Service.
"The Classic is a perfect illustration of what the black community can accomplish," said Green. "It's a huge undertaking and takes a lot of work, but the people we work with are committed and work tirelessly every year to make sure it goes as smooth as possible. Our part is to help this man, Fred Jones, promote a successful event that embraces and speaks for us all."
"The game has become a giant family reunion, a community of shared feelings. For instance, the attendance at the tailgating event has become nearly as huge as the attendance at the game, and The Ambassadors are there to make sure it goes without a hitch."
Matching personnel to need is the real trigger to the team's success. For example, making sure that you have a person able to multitask under pressure," Green says, "or not being caught up in personalities while the work is getting done. So much comes at you sometimes and we have to make sure that the team member we've assigned can handle the responsibility and communicate in a calm manner if something out of the ordinary occurs."
One such "out of the ordinary" occurrence of the volunteer brigade's skill being tested was during a major remodeling project of the Liberty Bowl. Call it, "the Case of the Disappearing Seats."
According to Green, the Ambassadors showed up for the game "about noon and found out new seats had been installed, but there were several rows of seats missing – seats for which tickets had been sold. We had to manage that situation and make sure everyone was seated and happy."
Southern Heritage Founder and Producer Fred Jones recalled that day.
"They had torn out all of the box seats, but we had already sold them out. There is no way I could put a value on what the Ambassadors do," said Jones.
"All I can say is that without them I couldn't get the Classic done."