The Equality Equation Finalizes the Development Structure for its First HBCU Wellness Project

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The Virginia Union Equality Health & Wellness Center highlights the impact of Coach Prime on viability of HBCU economics.

Rendering of the Virginia Union Equality Wellness Center

"Prime will make our job a lot easier, he showed the world the economic viability of black schools"

As much as college sport is a great equalizer of people via athletics, it has not been able to remedy the inequalities that have hamstrung HBCUs from capitalizing on revenue streams for universities in their association with NCAA sports. This has been caused, in part, by the NCAA’s lack of interest in developing national black college sporting events.

Enter Coach Prime. A marketing genius who used his brand to highlight the black college experience. 'Prime Time' and his family became HBCU royalty and thoroughly immersed themselves in all the things that made black college sporting events great. "Give me my theme music!" flooded black social media and was always prefaced by a Coach Prime speech that gave you chills. Coach Sanders' passion resonated with black folks socially, but it also appealed to supporters concerned about the financial wellness of HBCUs. Coach Deion brought the viability of HBCU Wellness to prime time.

Black Twitter has been on fire since Coach Prime announced his acceptance of the head coaching job at the University of Colorado. Opinions on both sides are filled with conviction. Supporters of his decision cite that anyone would have taken the opportunity for the huge salary increase and the opportunity for a black coach at a Power 5 school. Those who do not support his decision argue that he has money and that it was a missed opportunity to develop a model to bring 3, 4, and 5-star black athletes, who make NCAA athletics a $15 Billion/year business, to HBCUs.

The social and economic impact of Deion Sanders on HBCUs was tremendous. It idealized the notion of post-season tournaments for black college conferences. The monetizing of HBCU Classic games, black college band events, real estate development, and the manufacturing of HBCU paraphernalia became a viable economic operation in the eyes corporate America.

There has always been a justification for the development of HBCU-only post-season tournaments, especially when 80% of black professionals come from historically black colleges and universities, and most remain closely tied to their alma maters. Homecomings, HBCU Classic sporting events, and conference tournaments stoke the nostalgia of the black college experience in its alumni. These events are always well attended. In 2019 the CIAA conference basketball tournament and the ACC basketball tournament were held in Charlotte, NC. The CIAA tournament generated $43.7 million in economic impact to the region, outproducing the ACC tournament by $7.1 million.

The framework and the components for the monetization of black college sports and HBCU Wellness has always been available, and the capacity to develop and formulate a model to make it successful are within the walls of any HBCU. What is also there and prevalent, are the remnants of social engineering that disables us from sacrificing individual gain for the greater good. It is what we thought Deion Sanders had conquered, many believed he would not leave Jackson State or the HBCU community until the task of effectuating HBCU Wellness was complete.

It turns out that his decision, in many minds, was par for the course. Two of the elite HBCUs, Hampton University and North Carolina A&T jumped ship from the MEAC to the greener pastures of a PWI conference, both citing economic opportunities for their respective university. And then several years back the coveted Celebration Bowl was in disarray and did not have a future outlined. In steps Joe Taylor, 6-Time Hall of Famer and VP of Intercollegiate Athletics at Virginia Union University, to develop marketing strategies to enhance the Celebration Bowl brand. Those strategies lead to a lucrative deal for the SWAC and MEAC conferences with ESPN. Coach Taylor, in an effort to gain support from the MEAC and SWAC commissioners to bring the CIAA and the SIAC, the other 2 black college conferences, onto the radar of ESPN in order to create a HBCU National Championship tournament that included all 4 black college conferences, was told that those conferences would somehow lessen the value of the black college national championship that the Celebration Bowl is.

"Being disappointed by our own, is something we are used to, but for some reason, Coach Prime's departure hit harder, it is testing the hope that we have in each other" says Pless Jones of the Equality Equation Project. "Our faith will not let it stop us", Pless continues. Pless has partnered with Coach Taylor and Virginia Union University to develop the Virginia Union Equality Wellness Center, a community healthcare center ran by the university on its campus. "The Equality Equation works to show HBCUs how to use its resources to create economic ecosystems that perpetually support the growth of HBCUs and the expansion of community services into the surrounding neighborhoods" Pless explains.

"Prime will make our job a lot easier, he showed the world the economic viability of black schools" says Pless. Pless and Coach Taylor have also partnered to deliver a new brand of HBCU sporting events called the Equality Classics. This past November the Equality Equation sponsored the second annual L. Douglas Wilder Equality Classic. This game is held during rivalry week between Virginia State University and Virginia Union University.

The truth is that we all are thankful for Deion Sanders' impact on the HBCU landscape, albeit for number of different reasons. The degree of our thankfulness may be related to the amount of work that is left to effectuate wellness at black colleges and knowing how easy Coach Prime was making that work look.

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Pless Jones