The God-factor is inextricably interwoven into the Southern Heritage Classic, with fresh reminders served up during the 32nd edition of the cultural-celebration weekend in Memphis.
Amid the special buzz at Friday’s Classic Coaches Luncheon at the Renasant Convention Center, the two personalities mostly responsible for generating that enhanced energy gave witness to the power of faith.
Jackson State University head coach Deion Sanders and Tennessee State University counterpart Eddie George – iconic figures on and off the gridiron – matter-of-factly shared their reliance upon the God element in deciding to bring their star power to the burgeoning world of HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).
NFL Hall of Fame member Sanders, the only athlete to have played in a Super Bowl and a World Series, said as he weighed JSU’s offer to become head coach he sought to get “some type of understanding of what I was getting myself into.”
Information flowed to him, he said, about HBCU culture, history and the alumni view of wondrous HBCU life. Along with that he took stock of a wide range of people who wanted to take HBCUs to another level amid efforts to more assertively move the country to a higher level regarding issues of “ethnicity, morality and equality.
“And God spoke to my spirit and said, ‘Let’s go.’ And when He said that, He said, ‘Not only do I want you to go … every time you (are) at a microphone in front of a multitude, I want you to challenge them to do more … to give more … to be more of what they say they are. … I truly want you to hold not only yourself accountable, but yet hold them accountable.’’
Acknowledging that his first Southern Heritage Classic pits him against his friend, colleague and Heisman Trophy winner George, Sanders said TSU’s new high-profile coach “also had been called by God to challenge these young men … to take them to another level.”
George said he listened respectively when TSU President Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover asked him to take over the football program with no coaching experience. Hesitant, he consulted with his wife, whose feedback included “… this might be a gift from God.”
Due diligence included consulting with myriad people to get a handle on whether he could be successful. That included “Coach Prime,” who told him, ‘you darn right.’’
With that collective objectivity, George said he then moved to spend some quiet time with himself “and in those quiet moments really finding out what God had for me.”
The answer, said George, was an opportunity for a life-altering impact at an HBCU. An added blessing, he said, was to have his second game as a head coach be against his friend Sanders.
Echoing Sanders’ earlier pronouncement, George said, “We have to do better, we have to raise the standards, we have to fight for equity in each and every moment … we have to meet mediocrity in every corner … from academics, to athletics, to operations, to maintenance ….”
In pursuit of doing and being better with students in mind, TSU President Dr. Glover said she draws daily upon a lesson learned from her elders, including her uncle, the Rev. Rev. Lester Basken, the longtime pastor of Middle Baptist Church in Whitehaven, who died in August at age 90.
“Start each day with prayer and meditation,” said Glover in a conversation with The New Tri-State Defender this week.
“I have done that as long as I can remember. Even when I am rushing, it may not be the longest prayer, but you have to always start with prayer and acknowledgement and thanks; give thanks!”