The HBCU All-Star Game at Grand Canyon University was either a basketball game or a party, depending upon whom you ask.

Either version would be accurate, and it has me convinced that Black Phoenix needs to come together to do it again — but with a football game. When we take care of our own communities, it boosts the entire state.

“Everything was first class in Phoenix,” said Travis L. Williams, the driving force behind the hoops showcase that doubled as a massive community service project.

The DJs inside the arena and outside at the business fair blasted tunes on Sunday afternoon from Cameo and Chic to SVW and Soul For Real, karaoke hits that Black folks like me know from hearing them during Sunday morning chores or road trips in the backseat of our parents’ cars.

The game was the culmination of a week of events that included homeless outreach, a renovation project at Grant Park, a historically Black college and university school fair at Phoenix College.

It all served to give Arizona students a chance to consider being educated at a historically Black school that highlights African American history of overcoming oppression and obstacles on our unique path to accomplishing the American Dream.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities “have a strong record of accepting students who don’t come from affluent backgrounds, who don’t have the same educational opportunities early on … events like this shed light on educational opportunities that are out there for Black youth,” said Eboni “Muse” Johnson, visual artist and creative behind the storytelling series “Centered.”

It’s particularly important as states led by conservatives are pushing to erase Black history from K-12 schools with a distorted fight against critical race theory. Johnson graduated from Jackson State University.

“Going to an HBCU allowed me to see that intraculturally, we’re super-duper diverse. … It taught me that there is no one way to be Black,” she said. “We are not a monolith. We have unique experiences to share and paths to walk.”

In much of the nation, HBCUs are known for football “classics,” something of a bowl game for schools that started forming before the Civil War by abolitionists who wanted to train Black people to educate themselves, even when it was illegal to do so in much of the nation at the time.

Johnson grew up with the Capital City Classic, which is also known as the Soul Bowl, in Jackson, Miss. There’s the Bayou Classic and the Circle City Classic. But what about a new “classic” in Arizona?

Call it the Bass Reeves Classic, in a nod to our state’s legacy of Black cowboys? Or the Western Classic, since there aren’t any undergraduate HBCU campuses this side of Texas? Or, as a friend and colleague recently suggested to me in a meeting, “The Jerry Rice Classic.”

“That would be amazing. The Jerry Rice HBCU Classic at Phoenix Raceway. It just sounds right. Right?” said Latasha Causey, president of the Phoenix Raceway. “It rolls right off the tongue. Let’s put it out there. You know, you put it out there, sometimes things just happen.”

Rice played at Mississippi Valley State on the way to becoming the greatest football player to ever pull on a helmet. (I once suggested to Larry Fitzgerald that his resume compared favorably to Rice’s. Fitz wasn’t having it. He looked at me like he wanted to stuff me in a locker.)

Assuming Rice is on board, Phoenix has everything necessary to pull the game off.

First, we have plenty of potential venues, starting with Phoenix Raceway.

“We have not done it before in Phoenix,” Causey said. “But I do know that we have done it before at other raceways. My good friend Erik Moses (executive director and CEO of the Fiesta Bowl), when he ran the Nashville Superspeedway, he had a game in his infield.

“We would be open to doing something like that here in Phoenix for sure. We have about 700 acres of land at Phoenix Raceway, so we don’t just do NASCAR events here. Our facility is open 200 days a year.”

Causey pointed up the necessity for a driver, so to speak.

“We have the location. We have the facility. We have the things we need to make sure it’s a great experience, but we would need the individuals to make it happen, to plan it, to raise capital, to put some money behind it,” she said. “We would need the right professionals to make it happen.”

That shouldn’t be too high of a barrier, however. We’ve got a strong community of Black leaders in Phoenix.

“We would stand behind that 100 percent,” said Bishop Anthony Holt, president of the Arizona NAACP.

“We would put our money behind our mouths and our bodies behind our actions,” he said. “Everything that says what we are as NAACP, we would put into our energy toward making that happen.”

And remember, HBCUs aren’t solely for Black students any more than BYU is only for Latter-day Saints or Notre Dame is exclusive to Catholics.

About 1 in 4 HBCU students is non-Black. The schools are open to anyone who qualifies academically, and the engineers, scientists and other professionals they put into the workforce contribute to the national economy.

Why Arizona lacks:Historically Black colleges

Leaders across the state seemed to recognize the potential impact of introducing Arizona to HBCU graduates.

“There was so much love here from Gov. Hobbs to Mayor Kate Gallego … from everybody,” said Williams, founder of the basketball showcase. “All the local leaders, the pastors. Everybody has treated us well here. It was evident when everybody came to the game.”

About 7,500 people attended the game on Sunday. It’s all but certain that the weather will entice some of them to relocate here from congested and snowbound cities in the East and Midwest. A football game would promise about three times that many fans.

The local business community saw an immediate boost.

“For the Black business community in Phoenix, this means support, celebration and community,” Ali Nervis said at the business fair outside of Global Credit Union Arena on Sunday afternoon. Nervis is an entrepreneur who’s involved in Grassrootz Bookstore, Straw & Wool haberdashery and Archwood Exchange business marketplace.

He was in full support of the idea of an annual football classic.

“I think that’s a tremendous idea,” he said. “I think the only thing left to it is to do it.”

I think he’s right.

It would be a football game or a party, depending upon whom you ask.

Based on the event on Sunday, the guess here is that either version would be accurate.

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @SayingMoore.

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Basketball or a party? Either way, let's do more of this

18 1
09.04.2024

The HBCU All-Star Game at Grand Canyon University was either a basketball game or a party, depending upon whom you ask.

Either version would be accurate, and it has me convinced that Black Phoenix needs to come together to do it again — but with a football game. When we take care of our own communities, it boosts the entire state.

“Everything was first class in Phoenix,” said Travis L. Williams, the driving force behind the hoops showcase that doubled as a massive community service project.

The DJs inside the arena and outside at the business fair blasted tunes on Sunday afternoon from Cameo and Chic to SVW and Soul For Real, karaoke hits that Black folks like me know from hearing them during Sunday morning chores or road trips in the backseat of our parents’ cars.

The game was the culmination of a week of events that included homeless outreach, a renovation project at Grant Park, a historically Black college and university school fair at Phoenix College.

It all served to give Arizona students a chance to consider being educated at a historically Black school that highlights African American history of overcoming oppression and obstacles on our unique path to accomplishing the American Dream.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities “have a strong record of accepting students who don’t come from affluent backgrounds, who don’t have the same educational opportunities early on … events like this shed light on educational opportunities that are out there for Black youth,” said Eboni “Muse” Johnson, visual artist and creative behind the storytelling series “Centered.”

It’s particularly important as states led by conservatives are pushing........

© Arizona Republic


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