Bayou Classic and the Continuing Importance of HBCU’s

Edwin Buggage

Battle of the Cats Return to New Orleans
Since 1974 during the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend New Orleans have experienced a rivalry that brings people from all of the country to what is known as the “Battle of the Cats.” The Southern University Jaguars and the Grambling State Tigers battle it out not only on the gridiron but what is also a must see, the much renowned the Battle of the Bands.

Today, the Bayou Classic and New Orleans are synonymous. Over its four decades it has grown to include empowerment seminars, a parade, fan festival and much more. Given this is New Orleans, of course parties also take place all over the city, as people come together in the spirit of friendly rivalry, bus most important African-American unity.

This is the tradition and continuing spirit of HBCU’S (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) as they have been institutions that continue to be important in training African-Americans for future greatness and being a beacon light for the black struggle and the quest for excellence in many fields of endeavor.

Bayou Classic: More than Just a Game
The Bayou Classic has become more than just a football game, but a place where people come together every year to restore old bonds and foster new ones. It is a multi generational event with people of all ages in attendance.
On the significance on the Bayou Classic, Anna Jones, a Southern alum says, “Bayou Classic is an important African-American tradition that spans 45 years. It’s like coming home! It is the time of year we come together to reconnect with former students, members and friends and watch an exciting football game. It’s also a time to create new memories and share in the values of these two great organizations.”

Echoing similar thoughts is Bill Tucker, who serves as a member of the Southern University System Foundation, Board of Directors, Chairs its Investment Committee, is a member of the University Club, a charter member of the 1880 Society, and a life member of the Southern University Alumni Federation. He playfully says he is a Jaguar through and through and bleeds Blue and Gold.

“The Bayou Classic is the most continuously successful HBCU Classic in history. Mainly because it is indeed a family affair, where generational differences merge (parents/children who attended SU or GSU; inter-college family relationships are challenged (sisters & brothers who attended one or the other of the schools) and the pure gridiron rivalry of the Blue & Gold, Southern University Jaguars vs the Black & Gold, Grambling State Tigers, make for a tumultuous and exciting afternoon. Thousands of people travel from all over the country to be in New Orleans for the Bayou Classic.”

Joseph Stewart, a Southern Alum from Maringouin, Louisiana and his wife Clara Stewart, who attended Grambling for 3 and a half years before graduating from Tennessee State, another HBCU. They are regular attendees of the Bayou Classic. Chiming in on the significance of the Classic he says, “It is about Black Pride; it’s about “Yes We Can; it’s about Top Shelf Entertainment and most importantly it’s about Fundraising. This event produces critically needed financial resources for both Southern and Grambling.”

The Importance of HBCU’s
HBCU’s have a special place in the African-American Community. These schools, many of them formed after the Civil War and Segregation were providing a place for African-Americans to get education in a supportive environment with the goal bring to not only uplift yourself and your family, but to represent the best of the Black race. To inspire and encourage others to aspire to reach higher.

These schools provided opportunities to pursue excellence. Today, while students can attend PWI (Predominately White Institutions), HBCU’s still are the places where the seeds of greatness are planted, fertilized and harvested.
“Traditionally HBCU’s were established to provide a space for academia when Black students weren’t welcomed in other schools. They continue to provide a diverse learning environment by promoting and preserving Black education and Black excellence. Post-graduation, HBCU alumni are uniquely equipped to make significant impact as leaders, innovators, creators, and educators in their communities. Continued support of these institutions is critical to the success of generations to follow,” says Anna Jones.

Bill Tucker is an example of a person who embodies the spirit of HBCU’s and what they can do as a bridge to unlimited possibilities.“I believe that there are still kids like Bill Tucker out there. Kids that come from challenged home environments. Half of the freshmen class at many HBCUs are from low income backgrounds. Kids that are gifted and talented; but do not get the opportunity to truly realize their potential. They don’t realize their potential because they get lost in a large university student population, and ultimately they get lost in society. HBCUs are uniquely competent to empower these student populations.”

HBCU’s and Holding the Keys to Black Excellence
It is without a doubt that HBCU’s across the country are centers of excellence producing some of the countries most talented and successful African-Americans. It is in these scholls many students get their undergraduate, graduate and terminal degrees armed with the told to make a difference and defy the myths of African-Americans not being able to achieve at a high level.

“Any objective review of U.S. history will judge HBCU’s to be National Treasures. These institutions have, and continue to uplift more of this nation’s disenfranchised than any other element of our society!” says Joseph Stewart.

While HBCU’S compise only 3% of colleges and universities in the United States according to UNCF; it produces 20% of African-American college graduates. These great work these universities do as well is evidenced by the fact that 75% of all black PhD’s, 46% of Black business executives, 50% of Black engineers, 80% of Black federal judges, 85% of Black doctors, 50% of Black attorneys, 75% of Black military officers, 40% of Black dentists, 50% of Black pharmacists, and 75% of Black veterinarians are graduates from HBCU’s.

The Continued Significance and the Need to Support HBCU’s
The Bayou Classic is more than just a great weekend of football and fun. Some of the proceeds go to help students pay for the cost of college. May students attending HBCU’s are often first generation college students or non-traditional students that are working adults. So it is important that in the age where there have been public funding cuts to higher education nationwide that we as African-Americans consider supporting our HBCU’S to continue in their quest to nurture black excellence.

As a man of great success and overcoming the odds, Bill Tucker reflects on his life and what it might not had become if it were not for HBCU’S, “Take a look at Bill Tucker; grew up in a single parent household, where my mother raised me after the untimely death of my father, before my third birthday. I never knew we were poor, but when I arrived at Southern University, Baton Rouge, in 1969, I had never heard of LSU. Yes, Bill Tucker, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and active investor would not have ever realized his potential if not for Southern University. Now, of course, times have changed. Many people of color have educational opportunities that I could not have dreamed of at the time. But I believe that there are still kids out there like Bill Tucker.”

Today education is still key and is important as African-Americans continue to fight for equity, fairness and justice. And HBCU’s have a proven track record of providing the bridge to a better life for African Americans. It is important to note that all our historical institutions need support including our schools and businesses. It is up to us to continue to uplift each other and support with not only our rhetoric, but with resources that will assist in preserving our historical institutions. Forging ahead in our strides towards improving and enhancing our community.

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