A college game may be the main Chicago Football Classic attraction, but it’s the focus on Chicago’s future leaders that Chicago Football Classic organizers and supporters say makes the event so significant.
The Chicago Football Classic is an annual week of events that wraps with a game of football and “battle of the bands” between two historically black colleges. Currently, it’s the only HBCU classic that exists in the northern part of the U.S. At its press conference on Tuesday, both organizers and supporters explained how although the classic is for everyone, there is a huge — and intentional — focus placed on Chicago youth.
“We’re trying to build something here and make sure that the game is a platform for the kids,” co-founder Everett Rand said. “They only see to the end of their neighborhoods, and we’re trying to give them the opportunity to come to Soldier Field to see different lifestyles, different mentors. Once you look in that mirror and only see yourself, you’re in trouble. But when you can go out and see people doing well for the community that you heard about and spend some time with them, it’s very impressionable.”
8th Ward Alderman Michelle Harris, who is a regular classic attendee and supporter, says that the event has become a community staple.
“This is more than a social event for our community; it’s an opportunity for our children,” she said. “19 years ago, did I think I would become the alderman? No, not in my wildest dreams. I was working for an alderman, but I never thought I’d be here in this position. We have to tell our children that they can dream big, and that’s what this classic offers.”
Kevin Brookins, senior vice president of strategy and administration at ComEd, is an HBCU graduate who also sees the importance of the classic. ComEd, which has supported the Chicago Football Classic for the past 18 years, will be honored at this year’s game for its work in post-secondary education.
“I’m personally very proud of it,” he said. “I am a product of an HBCU — Howard University — so if a little skinny kid from the East Side of Joliet can get an HBCU education and become a senior executive at a major utility company, in this great city of ours, in the greatest country in the world today, so can all of our kids.”
BMO Harris Bank’s Corliss Garner says that the Chicago Football Classic has positive long-term effects on the community as a whole as more young people become successful adults and return home to the city.
This is the fifth year that the company has been a co-title sponsor and is sponsoring the College Fair and Empowerment Summit, which will be held from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. before the game takes place. Bankers and financial literacy experts will be onsite to talk about financing their education, financial pitfalls during college, and being prepared for their next step.
“We really have an interest in exposing and education them to do their best and be their best with the hopes that they’ll come back to Chicago to make the city better. That’s really what this educational opportunity is all about — the kids understanding their full potential, that they are more than what they see on the news every day, and that they have the ability to inspire to be great.”
Both participating colleges expressed strong ties to Chicago and commitments to build Chicago as a main recruiting site of young talent.
Jahan Culbreath, vice president of institutional advancement and athletics at Central State University, says that the game is just one part of the experience.
“It is more than a football game for us,” Culbreath said. “It’s a given that the coaches and my student athletes want to get out there and win the game. But, what it means for us is engaging communities.”
Getchel L. Caldwell II, senior vice president of institutional advancement and university relations at Clark Atlanta University says his university has the same goal. The school’s current freshman class has 88 students from Chicago, a number he hopes will more than double next year.
“There are so many wonderful young Afro-American and brown people in the city that we want to capture,” Caldwell said. “There might be 88 freshmen today, but I want 188 next year coming out of this community.”
For more information on the Chicago Football Classic game and related events, visit http://www.chicagofootballclassic.biz.