With the Southern Heritage Classic as their backdrop, the alumni organizations of Tennessee State University and Jackson State University have been “signifying and trash-talking” over whose band outdid the other, whose tailgating is better, and of course, who is going to definitely win the game.
“That’s all part of the fun,” said Verlene Carter, a member of TSU’s Big Blue Club in Memphis. “We have gotten to know many JSU alumni over the years. We have had a mixer with them for the past 14 years. They know we’ll be talking trash and signifying, and they will, too. But at the end of the day, we both love our school, and we want the best for our kids.”
The Big Blue Club supports the athletic activities of TSU, which means its financial support and volunteer efforts are directed at all things sports at the university.
“The Big Blue Club is the athletic extension of the Memphis alumni association here,” said chairman Floyd Harrison. “We take a bus to games each year with other HBCUs because we like seeing the bands on the field.
“We travel to support the football team and we raise funds to support the programs of athletic director Teresa Phillips. Nashville has a Big Blue Club, and we decided to emulate that and form a local one in 1995.”
Helping students presently enrolled in school actually comes before parties, mixers and games.
“Now, let’s be clear about that. We do love a party,” said Erlene Carter, twin sister to Verlene Carter. “But supporting TSU students financially really comes first. That is our first purpose. We support all alumni efforts to assist young people in other departments, but athletics is the primary focus of the Big Blue Club. The Southern Heritage Classic is the perfect event to showcase all that we strive to do for our school.”
Georgia Whiting is president of the Tennessee State University National Alumni Association, Memphis and Shelby County Chapter. The 300-member organization has been recognized by the alumni’s Mid-South Regional Conference as one of the best and most active chapters.
“Supporting our students financially is one of our greatest priorities,” said Whiting. “This year, we started a Gap Fund for students. Even with all of the financial aid available, students are still expected to bring $500 to $600 to the table, and many of their families just don’t have it.
“Many of these students are first-generation college students. The average family’s income is $33,000. We want to fill in the gap for Memphis-area students. The Gap Fund goal is $30,000. We have already raised $7,500 and we have until June 30, 2020. We are confident we will reach our goal.”
President Lori J. Evans of the Jackson State University Alumni Association (JSUAA), Memphis Chapter, worked at JSU in student affairs before moving to Memphis five years ago.
“I moved here for love,” Evans said, with a grin. “The man who is now my husband lived here, and I decided to relocate to Memphis because of him. Working with students for nearly 15 years has given me a perspective that others may not have. I see the void in what we as alumni had been offering and what our students need.”
Along with the alumni organization, JSU had the Parent Club and Student Recruitment. This year, Evans combined the two entities and created the Student Recruitment and Success Committee.
“Our students need more than a big send-off when they’re going up to school, and then a Christmas party when they come home for holiday break,” said Evans. “Our students need professional clothing. Many of the young men didn’t even have one suit, and young ladies had no interview attire. So we opened a clothes closet to help our students.
“It has been important for me as a leader to make sure our children are prepared to be successful in school and beyond graduation. Some of them don’t have the basic skills to write a proper paper, email or communication, and they are going to need those reading comprehension and writing skills as they go out after graduation. I have seen the voids, and we are working to fill those voids and make sure our students have everything they need to be successful.”
As for partying and one-upping TSU alumni, JSUAA lives for the good-natured poking and chiding the two organizations give each other over the Southern Heritage Classic. But Evans agrees with TSU leaders that the highest priority is to aid students financially and offer other resources throughout the year.
“It is important for me to make sure there are student leaders being groomed for future leadership. We must have a plan of succession if the alumni organization is to continue being a growing and vital part of the larger JSU community.
“And if we ever neglect such an important duty, shame on us.”