Another hidden figure: Clyde Foster brought color to NASA Over three decades, he recruited hundreds of African Americans into the space program

Clyde Foster came of age in Alabama in the 1950s, a place and time so oppressive for African Americans that a former Nazi rocket scientist stood out as a figure of racial moderation.

Foster’s father worked at a Birmingham iron foundry, where the dirtiest, most backbreaking jobs were reserved for African Americans. Every day he would come home dog-tired, prompting his son to vow that he would earn a living using his mind, not his back. By itself, that was an audacious plan for a black man living in Alabama.

But Foster did much more than just find himself a desk job. He became a pioneering figure in the U.S. space program. Over nearly 30 years working for NASA, beginning in the agency’s earliest days, his mathematical calculations helped propel rockets into space. His focused determination helped establish a computer science program at what is now Alabama A&M University, making the historically black institution the first public college in Alabama to offer the major. And his quiet and relentless advocacy brought hundreds of African Americans into space industry jobs in the Deep South, helping to shift perceptions of black people in ways both subtle and profound.

A page from a brochure for the Computer Science Center at Alabama A&M. Clyde Foster (on right) started the center.

Alabama A&M

Beyond all that, Foster also became a small-town political leader whose influence was felt throughout Alabama. He led the effort to restore the long-forgotten charter of Triana, a once-dying black enclave of fewer than 100 families outside Huntsville. Foster served as Triana’s mayor for two decades, and his work became a model for other tiny, mostly black towns in Alabama that took control of their political lives.

“There is no other African American NASA employee who did more to get jobs for black people, to get advancement for black people and to get young people working at NASA. No one did more than Clyde Foster,” said Richard Paul, co-author of We Could Not Fail, a book about the first African Americans who worked in the space program. “On top of that, you have his entire political career, which is also groundbreaking. The man’s accomplishments are absolutely heroic.”

Foster, who was 86 when he died in 2017, was no doubt a hero, but one who most people outside Alabama had never heard of. By all accounts, he never protested, picketed or sat in. Yet he improved many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of black lives in a state where the law sanctioned blatant and often violent efforts to discount them.

“He just loved people. He wanted people to have a chance,” his widow, Dorothy Foster, 84, said in an interview. “He just wanted to help everybody. He was not the kind of activist you read about. He felt he could help blacks more by getting them employment than by getting out there and marching in the street.”

Foster was born in Birmingham in 1931, the sixth of 12 children. He went to the city’s public schools, which were segregated, as was every other public institution and accommodation in town.

“There were two sets of everything, one for the colored and one for the white,” Foster said in a 2008 interview with Paul for a radio documentary called Race and the Space Race. “Signs were posted on water fountains, restrooms.” Police harassment was a constant threat. “Whenever they would see a group of black kids assembled together, there was always some reason to go after them.”

A 1942 photograph of the Foster family: Back row, from left: Betty Foster (Berry), James Foster, James’s wife Elizabeth Foster, Clyde Foster, Dorothy Foster (Sweatt), Otis Foster, Ann Foster (Sweatt), Fred Foster. Front row, from left: David Foster, Katie Foster (Rodgers), Clyde’s father, James Foster, Clyde’s mother, Effie Foster, Geraldine Foster (Franklin), Eddie Foster.

Courtesy of Foster Family

Foster thought the best way to insulate himself from the many perils of being black in Alabama was through education. He had always been a good student, and he ended up going to Alabama A&M in Huntsville, where he majored in chemistry and mathematics. At the time, he had his eye on a teaching career.

While still in college, Foster crossed paths with Wernher von Braun, the Nazi scientist behind the V-2 rocket. Built with concentration camp slave labor, the V-2 was the world’s first long-range guided ballistic missile, and the Nazis used it to rain death on the Allies during World War II. Von Braun later came to the United States with a group of about 125 German scientists, engineers and technicians who had been captured by American soldiers. Rather than prosecute them, U.S. authorities enlisted the German scientists to develop missiles, and later spacecraft, for America.

Much of that work, the backbone of the nation’s space program, was located in the Deep South, and it began at a time when harsh segregation reigned. NASA rockets were developed under von Braun in northern Alabama, tested in rural Mississippi, manufactured in Louisiana, launched from Cape Canaveral in central Florida and monitored from Houston.

With this new mission, von Braun was quickly transformed from a warrior for the supposed Aryan master race into an advocate for science education so he could build a skilled workforce to support the space program. Perhaps not fully understanding racial dynamics in his new home, he came to all-black Alabama A&M early on for help. Von Braun wrote a script about his plans for the space program in Alabama, including the then-fanciful dream of flying men to the moon, and he asked Foster and several of his classmates to read it during an assembly at an all-white high school. It was never clear why von Braun chose to have black A&M students deliver his message to white students, and Foster later told interviewers the assembly was a flop. But the unusual encounter introduced Foster to a wondrous new industry that would eventually change his life.

Foster graduated from A&M in 1954 and was drafted into the Army, where he spent two years. He and Dorothy had met and married while in college, and when Foster came back to Alabama after completing his military commitment, he got a job teaching high school science near Selma in the central part of the state. Dorothy had remained in her hometown of Triana, and she wanted him to move back. After a year, he did.

“I told Clyde that I was going to call the Army Ballistic Missile Agency and set up an appointment for a job interview, and ‘You’re going,’ ” Dorothy recalled with a laugh. “And he did.”

Foster is seen here in the Army. He landed a job as a mathematician technician with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in 1957.

Courtesy of Foster Family

Foster landed a job as a mathematician technician with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in 1957. The agency, headed by von Braun, was located at the Redstone Arsenal, a military installation in Huntsville that would later house NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Foster was hired as part of a large team of people who crunched the numbers generated by gauges inside missiles and rocket engines during test flights. Their analysis allowed engineers to calculate wind resistance, the thrust of a rocket and its proper trajectory. NASA was formed a year after Foster started, and in 1960 he went to work for the new space agency.

Foster saw a bright future for himself at NASA. Working for the federal government was about as good as it got for a black man in Alabama. The pay was decent, and racial discrimination was illegal on federal property. Also, with the Kennedy administration pressing NASA to integrate the thousands of new jobs created by the space race, von Braun emerged as an advocate for integration. The New York Times once called him “one of the most outspoken spokesmen for racial moderation in the South.” Von Braun himself said the space age would belong to “those who can shed the shackles of the past.”

Outside the gates of Marshall, however, Alabama was still Alabama.

George Wallace, who had lost the 1958 governor’s race in part because he was perceived as insufficiently harsh when it came to race, took office as governor in 1963. In his inaugural address, he famously vowed, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” The next year, Wallace tried to back up his words by standing in the doorway of an auditorium at the University of Alabama in what was ultimately a vain attempt to prevent two black students from enrolling.

Foster and the handful of other African Americans among the thousands of employees at Marshall were inevitably harmed by that racism. Employees looking to move up had to take training classes, but many of those classes were off-limits to blacks because they were held off base at hotels and other segregated public facilities. Foster once took a telemetry course in Atlanta, but he had to stay at what he called a “fly-by-night” hotel miles from the training center. Still, he told interviewers, he never missed a session.

A few years after he started at NASA, Foster was angered by a supervisor’s request to train a white co-worker to be his boss. He refused the request and then complained to higher-ranking NASA officials about the situation black workers faced. He demanded training programs that black workers could readily take advantage of. Soon a deal was struck: NASA would hold separate training sessions for black workers at Alabama A&M, often importing instructors from out of town. It was an odd compromise: segregated training classes when the country was moving to root out segregation. But it was the best Foster could do. More than 100 black employees eventually took advantage of the separate-but-equal NASA training, which would prove to be the foundation of Foster’s legacy at NASA.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama on November 21, 1931, Foster graduated from Parker High School in Birmingham in 1950 and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Chemistry from Alabama A&M College in 1954.

NASA/MSFC

“I would say his most significant contribution to NASA directly would be the training program,” said Steven Moss, the other co-author of We Could Not Fail. “He made it so black workers did not have to jump through all the hoops that others before them did. Then, later, he helped so many people get jobs. As I talked to people at other NASA facilities in the Deep South, you can kind of see the family tree. They would trace who they work for, or who helped them, and it always came back to Clyde Foster.”

Even though Foster did not work in personnel, NASA would tap him to travel to colleges around the country to recruit African Americans trained in science or engineering to come work at Marshall. It was not easy for NASA to attract skilled white employees to Alabama, given the state’s horrible reputation for racial violence. It was even harder for Foster to attract black workers.

“I would tell [recruits] Huntsville was really not as bad … as the image George Wallace was given,” Foster said in a 1990 interview for a NASA oral history. “I told them, ‘Now, if you really wanted the challenge, good discipline, the space program has it for you.’ ”

The black scientists, engineers and technicians who did join NASA found Foster to be a willing mentor, no matter whether he had recruited them.

James Jennings was a math major at A&M when he met Foster, who was a regular presence at his alma mater in the mid-1960s. At the time, Jennings was about 20, and he looked up to Foster, who was in his mid-30s. Jennings took some computer classes that ignited his interest in working in the space program, which in those days represented the pinnacle of technological innovation. Jennings began as a co-op student at NASA and ended up spending almost four decades at the agency. He said Foster was a mentor nearly every step of the way.

Foster credited his experience at NASA for giving him the confidence and know-how to conquer the many challenges he confronted.

Photo by Don Rutledge courtesy of Lucy Rutledge.

“When I went to NASA, that was my first introduction into a predominantly white organization,” Jennings recalled in an interview. “I was kind of excited and apprehensive at the same time. I really didn’t know how our education would hold up, but it did not take me very long to understand that my education was on par or better than many of the white students who worked there.”

One thing that helped, he said, was Foster’s constant support. “He took me under his wing. He used to call everybody ‘Horse.’ He told me, ‘Horse, if you keep your nose clean and do your job, you could go far in this organization.’ ”

Jennings proved Foster correct, as he ended up working at NASA’s Washington headquarters in the government’s highest civil service rank before his retirement in 2005.

“Clyde always was encouraging and looked to give me opportunities for visibility,” Jennings said. “If your work is not visible to others, it is easy for your supervisor not to promote you. Clyde knew that, and he was always encouraging us to volunteer for committees and special projects.”

In an effort to create a pipeline of black workers into NASA, Foster persuaded von Braun to allow him to set up a computer science program at A&M. NASA provided grants to help get the program going, although at first Foster struggled to persuade A&M officials that it was worthwhile.

Founded in the wake of the Civil War, A&M had always focused on training students for jobs that black people could get in Jim Crow Alabama: teaching, nursing, farming and certain kinds of engineering. When Foster talked about building a computer science program to train students to send rockets to the moon, the skepticism was palpable.

“Black administrators were not interested, and they did not pursue this money because the program was there for them to develop other kinds of programs,” Foster said in the 2008 interview. “The most that we had was electronic, or electrical and mechanical engineering. [We had] civil engineering — we had to build some damn roads — but we [were] talking about building a pathway to space.”

Eventually, Foster won over the A&M officials. NASA paid Foster’s salary for two years while he worked to establish the program, which went online in 1969.

The cover of a brochure for the Computer Science Center at was then called Alabama A&M College. Foster started the bachelor’s degree program in computer science.

Alabama A&M

“Everything he did, I think he realized he was making a difference,” Jennings said of Foster. “But he was not the kind of person looking to take credit for it.”

In the late 1970s, Foster took a job in NASA’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office, which got him away from the technical heart of the agency but gave him more leverage to help black people get a leg up.

“I thought I could make an even greater contribution to increase the workforce to a more integrated workforce,” Foster said in the 1990 interview. Foster was director of Marshall’s EEO office when he retired from NASA in 1987.

His advocacy did not stop at work. Foster served on Alabama’s Commission on Higher Education, to which he was first appointed by Wallace in 1974. That was besides his groundbreaking work as the mayor of Triana. His work to re-establish the town’s charter cleared the way for Triana to receive federal grants for a series of major upgrades, including building the town’s first water system, installing its first streetlights, paving its gravel streets and renovating the town hall, which previously had been a coal-heated shack.

Following Foster’s example, about a dozen African American towns were able to reincorporate and, in some cases, make similarly dramatic improvements. The new political control also allowed a generation of black mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs and other local officials to gain experience in office.

Decades later, Foster led the legal fight against a chemical company that had poisoned the town’s waterways with DDT, resulting in a $24 million settlement for Triana residents.

Foster credited his experience at NASA for giving him the confidence and know-how to conquer the many challenges he confronted.

“If I hadn’t had these experiences early in life to cross over into these areas: political, education, business,” he said. “All of that was done because of the experience I had with NASA.”

This article is being published in collaboration with American Experience/WGBH as part of its series “Chasing the Moon,” which examines the scientific, political and personal dramas behind the space race on the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing. PBS will broadcast a film across three nights starting at 9 p.m. EDT/8 p.m. CDT on July 8. Short digital films, articles, timelines and comics, including pieces on the first African American to be trained as an astronaut, the desegregation of Huntsville, and the Poor People’s Campaign protest at the Kennedy Space Center, can be found here.

IHOP or IHOb? Marketing move leaves a bad taste with black students When it comes to breakfast, burgers or brunch, Waffle House still wins

It’s 2 a.m. on a Saturday, you just left the party, you’ve sweated out your clothes, you got that girl’s or guy’s number you’ve been dancing with all night and now you are so hungry that it feels like your stomach is touching your back.

We’ve all been here before.

This is a typical night for many college students who choose to go out with their friends on the weekend. And for those students, the remedy to the 2 a.m. munchies boils down to a few popular restaurant chains: Waffle House, IHOP, Sonic and maybe a local diner close to their campus.

But early Monday, one of those restaurant chains decided to go in a new direction that could significantly affect its competition for college students. IHOP decided to temporarily change its branding from “the International House of Pancakes” to the International House of Burgers” or IHOb. The marketing strategy by the popular restaurant chain is an effort to be known as a place to get lunch and dinner, not just breakfast and brunch.

After the announcement, black students went into an uproar on social media. Some even said that they would “pass” on the restaurant entirely after this branding shift.

While some students were shocked by the unexpected move, others said the new marketing approach would be insignificant for IHOP’s or “IHOb’s” brand in the long run.

“People will always go to IHOP to get their pancakes first and foremost,“ said Chris Edwards, a recent TV broadcast and film grad from Elon University. “The menu had burgers before and no one liked them, so unless they’ve done something drastic to the flavors, then this campaign was a waste.“

“They aren’t taking anything away. The usual customers can still get what they regularly order and new customers can try something new, and if they don’t like it they can just stick to the pancakes,“ said Isaiah Stewart, a junior at North Carolina A&T University. “I think it’s kind of like putting on jewelry; it doesn’t have to make the fit, but it could help.“

So far, it doesn’t seem like it has. Public perception of the brand’s move has been met with not only bewilderment but also a Twitter backlash from lots of black college students.

“I thought it was stupid and unnecessary to go from a breakfast establishment to having a focus on burgers. One percent of all customers go to IHOP to purchase a burger, so why make this big of a change?” said Janae Adams, a senior at Clark Atlanta University. “IHOP is where people go on Sunday after church for breakfast. That’ll hurt business.“

The disapproval has only seemed to lengthen the gap between IHOP and one of its main competitors, Waffle House, which lots of black students already prefer because it’s cheaper and offers a different vibe for their post-party munchies.

“Waffle House is the superior 24-hour restaurant that will serve you anything and everything for a cheap price,” said Edwards. “You want waffles, hash browns and a burger at 3 a.m.? They got you already. People already know that they have solid burgers if you really want something different, so it’s not even worth talking about.”

What is worth talking about, however, is how detrimental this marketing campaign will be for IHOP as it watches some of its young black consumers go elsewhere for their late-night meal.

HBCU performers at Coachella with Beyoncé say it’s a life-changing moment ‘Beychella’ showcases the beauty and fire of the black college experience with help of DRUMLine Live crew

In January 2017, fans were ecstatic to learn Beyoncé would be headlining the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Outside of the anticipation of a creative and energetic performance, Queen Bey would make history as the first black woman to headline the festival in its 19-year existence. Less than a month later, excitement turned to disappointment. Pregnant with twins, Beyoncé followed her doctors’ advice of adhering to a less-rigorous schedule and decided to cancel her performances.

Needless to say, the decision was a crusher to fans who’d already purchased tickets specifically for this one performance. For Beyoncé, it wasn’t so much a loss as it was an opportunity to expand on her ideas of a perfect show. The fans come first, and she’d have a year to make it up to eager festivalgoers who’d await the day she returned to the stage. Her wheels began to turn, and what Beyoncé landed on was a historically black college and university-themed production that could dethrone North Carolina A&T State University as the greatest homecoming on earth.

But to pull it all off, Beyoncé would need help from those familiar with the traditional HBCU environment. There would need to be band members and skilled dancers, drumlines and representatives of black Greek-letter organizations to transform the Coachella stage into a black campus quad. Beyoncé and her team enlisted the help of several groups to make up her 100-member-plus crew with whom she’d share the spotlight, including executive band consultant Don P. Roberts.

“[Beyoncé’s team] and I connected and talked in the beginning, but hadn’t agreed to anything,” Roberts said. “I think they were still doing their research. They asked me for background information about myself, my company and once they decided it was a go, it was my job to put together the best of the best — an all-star team that represented the best of historically black colleges and universities from around the country.”

DRUMLine Live CEO Don Roberts immediately recruited the best HBCU musicians upon learning that his team would be performing with Beyoncé at Coachella.

Roberts was up for the challenge. Besides, scouting talent was something he was used to doing through his company, DRUMLine Live.

Roberts began as a band director at Southwest DeKalb High School in Decatur, Georgia. While leading one of the most popular high school bands in the country, Roberts caught the attention of producer and songwriter Dallas Austin, who was a fan of the high school band. After Austin attended one of Roberts’ band practices, Austin asked the band director if he’d be interested in becoming a consultant for a band-focused movie that he’d be working on.

“That movie was Drumline,” Roberts said. “I was the band director that you didn’t see.”

The movie was a hit. Those who weren’t familiar with black band culture wanted to learn more, and HBCUs featured in the film attracted a larger following due to exposure. With all of this in mind, Roberts had an idea to take the show on the road.

“How cool would it be if we could do something like this on stage?” Roberts asked himself. Austin and others supported the idea, later named DRUMLine Live, but funds were initially limited. Roberts was later picked up by Columbia Artists Management Inc., which helped with marketing and theatrics for upcoming shows. After years of growing pains and working out the kinks, Roberts began scouting talent of former HBCU band members from across the country to perform in the live production.

“DRUMLine Live is the only company in the world to allow [HBCU] band members to continue their careers after college,” Roberts said.

The troupe has traveled to Japan, Korea and performed for large crowds in more than 300 cities around the country. Today, the production is represented by Creative Booking Agency and is in the process of getting the rest of its 2018 schedule underway.

The first stop: Coachella.


Once Roberts received word that he’d officially been recruited by Beyoncé’s team to assist with her Coachella performance, he began assembling the best of the best from HBCUs across the country. Many of those chosen by Roberts were already members of DRUMLine Live, but a few others auditioned specifically for the event.

“Once we selected the guys, I could not tell them where they were going,” Roberts said. “I had to convince them to leave their homes, drop everything. Originally, I told them we’d be in New York. Then I told them we’d be in California, but still didn’t tell them who they were performing for. To see their faces by the time they found out who they were performing for, that was priceless.”

“Once we selected the guys, I could not tell them where they were going,” Roberts said. “I had to convince them to leave their homes, drop everything. Originally, I told them we’d be in New York. Then I told them we’d be in California, but still didn’t tell them who they were performing for. To see their faces by the time they found out who they were performing for, that was priceless.”

Most of the marching band, the entire drumline and some of the band’s trumpeters were all members of Roberts’ DRUMLine Live. This group, combined with Beyoncé’s core band and others selected by her team, worked seamlessly to form one gigantic HBCU band. Three of the crew members were Larry Allen, 30; Dasmyn Grigsby, 29; and Naderah Munajj, 27, all who were part of DRUMLine Live for years.

For Allen, a Houston native and graduate of Prairie View A&M University, coming from the same city as Beyoncé and sharing the stage with the star was enough to keep him focused.

Prairie View A&M University alum Larry Allen, survivor of Hurricane Harvey, believes being chosen for the performance was a blessing in disguise.

“I wanted to lock in and give the best performance that I could just to help her brand out,” Allen said. “It was mainly about her for me, but I enjoyed the experience.”

The performance itself was one of Allen’s many blessings in disguise — an event he claimed shortly after Hurricane Harvey ravaged his home in Houston. Although the devastation was overwhelming, Allen chose to find a rainbow in the midst of the storm.

“I was stranded for two days in my house, but I looked at it as [God] washed all the negativity away and grew a beautiful flower,” Allen said. “I felt this was my year and good things were happening. Not long after that, I got the call with this wonderful opportunity.”

Fellow performer Grigsby also grappled with finding his footing before being called for this opportunity.

Though Grigsby had been involved in music all his life, even making up his mind in fifth grade that he wanted to become a college drum major, Grigsby enrolled at Bethune-Cookman University, where he majored in business. Music was his first love, but nearly every job out of college called for him to stray further away from his heart’s desire. At his last job, anger overcame him. It wasn’t that he hated his job, but the anger came from the realization that he hadn’t been fulfilling his true purpose in life. Determining what was best for him, Grigsby quit his job.

Dasmyn Grigsby prepared for the performance by leaning on past experiences as a member of The Marching Wildcats of Bethune-Cookman University.

“Shortly after, this opportunity [to perform with Beyoncé] came,” Grigsby said. “I just have to give thanks to God and Don Roberts.”

The band members, both members of DRUMLine Live, were thrilled to be part of this production. But Munajj, a Florida A&M University graduate who is continually building her career as a singer, model, dancer and actress, took a different route for a part in Beyoncé’s performance. Munajj auditioned through a separate process, and was chosen as one of the finalists for a position. Although hopeful, Munajj received the crushing news that she did not get the part.

Luckily for Munajj, there was an unexpected second chance. One of the DRUMLine Live drummers would be out for a day, and she’d been asked to fill in. During that time, Munajj used her background as a dancer and limited knowledge of cymbals to wow those around her. When Beyoncé’s team was asked if they would like to bring the original drummer back to fill in the spot, they kept Munajj.

“I have a strong dance background, and my first time ever dealing with a pair of cymbals or playing with them was really on DRUMLine Live, so getting to this stage and being featured as a dancer, I had to be able to play the cymbals and still be able to execute my part,” Munajj said. “It was something very innovative and very new. These guys are dynamic performers who have been doing this for years. It was just a learning experience for me.”

Though the crew would only describe their practice days as long yet fun, it took Grigsby back to his Bethune-Cookman days.

Florida A&M University alum Nadera Munajj’s background as a dancer and ability to improvise landed her a role amongst the best during Beyonce’s Coachella performance.

“At Bethune-Cookman with Donovan Wells, who’s the band director there, one thing he’s really prideful on is repetition, and making sure that everything is on point and there’s no mistakes. He makes sure that every loose screw is tightened, and we really have a tight schedule. For two hours, we were just performing and practicing and if he saw something he didn’t like, he’d fix it or we’d do it again. The repetition at Bethune-Cookman translated to the Coachella performance. There were times that we did things over and over again just to make sure everything was tight. That kind of helped me in this realm of entertainment and performance.

“It’s very hot in Texas,” Allen added about his experience. “We have two seasons: hot and hot as hell. Just preparing all those years putting blood, sweat and tears on the field and leading the 350-plus band … it’s helped me so much. Being a drum major, I had to keep the ship rolling.”

Although the two-hour Coachella performance was a blur, there were moments that stuck out to each of them.

“I think [my favorite moment] was when Beyoncé looked and smiled at me,” Allen said.

“The best moment on stage for me was the moment the secret was out of the bag. When the lights went up and the audience started going crazy, they knew what the show was going to be about,” Munajj added.

For Roberts, it was the attention the performance attracted that blew him away.

“I’ve done movies. I’ve worked with pretty big-name people and it’s hard to overwhelm me with something spectacular, but I knew this was a different level after the event,” Roberts said. “The internet went crazy, everybody’s phones were blowing up. I had every major outlet from CNN to local radio stations blowing my phone up. I said, ‘Wow, we just made history.’ When the event was over, all the universities were calling to see who their students were. Everybody was claiming their people because they were so proud of who performed.”

Going into the second weekend of Coachella feels more like the main event to most of the members.

“The energy is so high right now because it’s like when you’re in a marching band and you have the pep rally and then the actual classic,” Grigsby said. “That was like the pep rally. This one is the actual classic. [The second performance] will be bigger than any classic we’ll ever do.”

“The energy is so high right now because it’s like when you’re in a marching band and you have the pep rally and then the actual classic,” Grigsby said. “That was like the pep rally. This one is the actual classic. [The second performance] will be bigger than any classic we’ll ever do.”

Although there are other artists the team would love to work with in the future, it may take some time to recover from one of the biggest performances of their lives.

“I don’t know what in my career would top this,” Munajj said. “This has been an ultimate goal of mine, and now that I’ve done this, I know that I can take my artistry to the next level and explore the platform we’ve been given. To be on the stage with this woman certifies you anywhere that you go.”

Detroit’s Midnight Golf Program teaches lessons of the game and life Hundreds of students benefit from mentors, scholarships and college tours

The 2018 Masters Tournament has a new champion, and his name isn’t Tiger Woods.

But young black golfers, like the participants in Detroit’s Midnight Golf Program, are still excited about the game and their place in the sport.

The Midnight Golf Program, affectionately known as “MGP,” is a selective, golf-centered program that was founded by Reneé Fluker. The program is based in Detroit, and only high school seniors in the area are eligible for the prestigious program. Those granted a spot in MGP have an opportunity to gain mentorships and learn life skills, etiquette and more, all while learning the game of golf. They are supplied with a set of golf clubs and Midnight Golf paraphernalia, such as polo shirts, hats and golf gloves.

The group’s name is a bit misleading. They do not play golf at midnight.

“Playing golf at night is impossible unless someone shines a light. The program uses the game of golf to give young people a brighter vision of their future,” said Fluker, who also is president.

Established in 2001, the program started with 17 students. That number has blossomed into roughly 200 students each year. This year’s program has 263. Participants attend biweekly sessions for seven months. Each session is three hours long — students receive golf lessons and life lessons such as financial literacy, interview skills and speech writing — with dinner. The program doesn’t cost participants anything, thanks to funding from sponsorships and donations from businesses, community donors, mentors and program alumni. Nearly 60 mentors and PGA professionals contribute their time and expertise.

“Young people in Detroit are full of promise. What they need is direction because school is such a small aspect of what’s necessary for success. I hope that message spreads,” said David Gamlin, vice president and program director of the Midnight Golf Program.

“Young people in Detroit are full of promise. What they need is direction because school is such a small aspect of what’s necessary for success. I hope that message spreads.”

MGP caters to underserved young men and women in Detroit and surrounding suburbs, and mentorship is one of the most essential parts of the program.

“Midnight Golf has impacted my life by helping me see that my future is important and that I can do anything I put my mind to,” said Asia Branham, 20, a sophomore at Harris-Stowe State University. “They helped me see that I don’t have to settle for less and that there is more out there in the world than just Detroit neighborhoods.”

MGP aims to provide mentoring and professional development in a familial atmosphere for its students and mentors. Students receive one-on-one mentoring with three to five students paired with an individual mentor. Mentors take students under their wing, staying in communication with them even after they go to college. The program’s motto is “College. Career. Beyond.” According to MGP, more than 98 percent of MGP students matriculate to institutions of higher education.

“I’ve seen young people with no intention of going to college or who didn’t believe they were ‘college material’ go on to be valedictorians and graduate summa cum laude,” said Winston Coffee, 34, who is in his seventh year of mentoring with the program.

The program relies heavily on its mentors, who must be able to volunteer twice a week and be at least 25 years old with no criminal background. They represent a diverse range of professions, from pilots to accountants to nurses and more.

Midnight Golf students and mentors primarily work together in Detroit. Since 2005, they have also traveled to colleges, universities and golf courses around the country. This portion of the program is called the Road Trip For Success (RTFS).

“The first time I visited my college, Philander Smith, was on the RTFS. I saw it and fell in love. I applied and was accepted with scholarship,” said Tiffany Phillips-Peters, a 2017 graduate of Philander Smith College. “Beyond the road trip, Ms. Reneé and another mentor, Mr. Ambrose, saw to it that I made it to and through college successfully. Mr. Ambrose and another mentor even attended my graduation.”

This year, the trip includes six cities. Six charter buses have transported students to North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Duke University, Winston-Salem State University, Duke University Golf Club, Birkdale Golf Club and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Although they were unable to ride to Augusta, Georgia, for the 2018 Masters, that didn’t keep them from following the tournament — especially since Woods was playing.

“It is a sport that has no equal and will be viable for the individual throughout time. Can’t digitize it. Can’t shrink it. We can speed it up, but golf will always be a great asset for those who play.”

“Tiger has been a strong inspiration for many new to the game, but golf needs no PR,” said Gamlin. “It is a sport that has no equal and will be viable for the individual throughout time. Can’t digitize it. Can’t shrink it. We can speed it up, but golf will always be a great asset for those who play.”

Although Woods was not a top finisher at the Masters and has been out of the sport for most of the past four years, that has not affected the students’ enthusiasm for the game. They credit MGP.

“Golf is not just a sport, but it teaches life principles and fundamentals for success,” said Tiffany Moore, 25, an alum of the program who is a current MBA student at Northwood University. “Many business transactions are held over the game of golf. I have been able to gain a business network from speaking on my experiences through the program and have encouraged a previous employer to invest in the program.”

Once students complete the 30-week program, they are eligible to receive awards, scholarships for college, a graduation cord and the title of MGP alum. Many also walk away with a desire to give back and help uplift others.

“The biggest lesson I took away from my experience as a Midnight Golf Program participant is that as you advance in your career and life overall, it is your duty to reach back and pull as many people up with you as possible,” said Jenise Williams, 21, a current senior at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Gaining alumni status in MGP is something that students don’t take likely.

“MGP made it known that we are not who we are merely off our own hard work. For that, we should pay forward the love and devotion others have poured into us, no matter how big or small.”

Oscar-nominated film about Emmett Till contemplates how racial terror affects those left behind Kevin Wilson Jr., the director of ‘My Nephew Emmett,’ is still in film school

Kevin Wilson Jr. has spent more than half his life thinking about Emmett Till and the night he was murdered.

A few days from now, he might just win an Oscar for it.

Wilson, 28, is the director of My Nephew Emmett, which is nominated for an Academy Award for best live action short film. The film looks at the day Till was kidnapped from the viewpoint of his uncle, Mose Wright, the relative Till was visiting in Mississippi in the summer of 1955.

When Wilson was an undergraduate studying journalism and mass communication at North Carolina A&T University, he mounted a play about Till. That one adopted Till’s own perspective as an audacious 14-year-old boy from Chicago going South to visit relatives. Wilson had begun working on the play when he was a 15-year-old student at Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina, which has one of the most respected theater programs in the state.

It’s terrifying, as a black person, to put yourself in the shoes of Till, an innocent snatched from his bed, kidnapped, tortured, murdered and thrown into the Tallahatchie River like so much garbage, all because he’d made the mistake of co-existing for a few moments with a white woman named Carolyn Bryant.

You know the story: Till was at a grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Bryant accused him of whistling at her and later lied to federal prosecutors, telling them that Till had touched her. Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother J.W. Milam rode to the Wright house the night of the alleged interaction and took Till at gunpoint. When his broken body was recovered from the Tallahatchie, his mother, Mamie Till, insisted that his casket remain open at his funeral for the world to see what had happened to him. Till’s body was eventually exhumed and reburied, and his original casket is now on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Wilson learned that story when he was 5 years old. His mother, now 54, had not yet been born when Till was killed, but the story reverberated through her childhood just the same. In 1995, she told it to Wilson, her only child, whom she was raising alone. It was a way of protecting him. That’s the legacy of Jim Crow and the terrorism of the lynching era: Half a century after Till’s death, his killers are still robbing black children of the right to grow up peacefully naïve. Wilson has two children of his own, and he plans to educate them similarly.

“It’s still very much relevant because we have, still, people of color, even in present day, who are being killed and no one is being held accountable for it,” Wilson said by phone from Los Angeles a few days before the Academy Awards. “So I think until we get to the point where a life is taken and we can just automatically say, ‘OK, a life was taken. There’s no debate. Someone is being held accountable for it,’ we have to continue telling those stories.”

Half a century after Till’s death, his killers are still robbing black children of the right to grow up peacefully naïve.

Although Wilson speaks with the authority of a filmmaker many years his senior, he won’t finish film school at New York University until later this year. He’s one of two Spike Lee protégés contending for awards Sunday night. The other is Mudbound director Dee Rees, who, along with co-writer Virgil Williams, was nominated for best adapted screenplay.

Lee brought Rees to speak to his class last semester, Wilson said, and he also gave Wilson the funds to finish his film when he came up short in postproduction. Once Wilson decided as an undergraduate that he was more interested in directing than acting, he spent a summer immersing himself in Lee’s work. He watched Do the Right Thing every single day, and he read everything he could find that the famed director had published, including his journals.

Do The Right Thing is the movie that made me fall in love with cinema,” Wilson said.

That love is evident in My Nephew Emmett. Wilson insisted on filming on location in Mississippi, although it upped the production costs, and he treats the story with the intellect and considered beauty that’s typical of the Disciples of Spike. Shot by cinematographer Laura Valladao, My Nephew Emmett forces its audience to think about space and proximity. When Bryant (Ethan Leaverton) and Milam (Dane Rhodes) ride on the Wright house and threaten Mose at gunpoint, they do so under the cover of night. There’s no physical distance in this crime — the men are close enough to wet Mose’s face with spittle. So often, the crimes that took place against black people during Jim Crow, whether it was lynching or sexual assault, happened in small towns where victims knew their assailants, a twisted flip side of the way small-town life is often celebrated as simple and bucolic. The Jim Crow era was marked by physical closeness and heavily enforced psychological distance, a theme Rees explores in Mudbound as well.

In My Nephew Emmett, Mose Wright is forced to decide whether to sacrifice Till to his attackers or subject the entire family to similar treatment by refusing to give up his nephew. The threat of sexual assault looms when one of the attackers grabs Mose’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Jasmine Guy.

“I’m a father, and I was curious about that feeling of having to decide between your son, or nephew in this case, and the rest of your family,” Wilson said. “It’s an impossible decision to make. And then what happens after that, after you make that decision. I think that Mose’s story is one of extreme courage; to be able to identify these men on camera, he was putting his life at risk. His entire family had to leave that home. They didn’t go back to that home after that night. They all moved back up to Chicago eventually.”

My Nephew Emmett is part of a wave of new projects about Till. Taraji P. Henson is producing and starring as Mamie Till in a film that John Singleton is directing. Steven Caple Jr., the director taking over the Creed sequel from Ryan Coogler, is writing an HBO miniseries about Till produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith.

“Mose’s story is one of extreme courage; to be able to identify these men on camera, he was putting his life at risk. His entire family had to leave that home.”

Wilson is a good example of why it’s worth paying attention to shorts, even if you’re a casual film buff. It’s not always easy to see all of the contenders in one place, and few movie theaters screen them (My Nephew Emmett is available on iTunes). But they can be a good predictor of future success and often offer glimpses of a director’s storytelling acumen because their brevity demands discipline. For example, Roger Ross Williams, the director who won the Oscar for best documentary short for Music by Prudence, went on to create the tender and inventive feature-length documentary Life, Animated. Damien Chazelle initially made Whiplash as a short before turning it into the feature-length project of the same name. It won three Oscars — for best supporting actor (J.K. Simmons), sound mixing, and film editing — and was nominated for best picture and best adapted screenplay.

Wilson is now trying to find funding for his next project, a feature-length thriller. Sunday, he’ll be in a room full of people with the deep pockets to help him.

“My goal is to be able to make a feature film every year and do television in between or commercials in between and plays in between,” Wilson said. “To be creating every day.”

Until I got to North Carolina A&T, I didn’t know enough black history By learning how powerful black people are, I learned just how powerful I am

For many African-Americans, February is a time of reflection and celebration. Many look back on the trials and tribulations that have oppressed our people and show their appreciation for the brave men and women who fought to make a better way of life for the next generation.

As an African-American kid who grew up attending public school in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I was well-versed in African-American history. Figures such as Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and others have been etched into my brain since third grade.

For many years, however, the struggle that these courageous pioneers went through was my only perspective on black history. While slavery and the civil rights movement are key components of our story, they are not our whole story. I believe growing up in a majority-white public school system blinded me to that fact.

It wasn’t until I stepped foot on the campus of a historically black college or university (HBCU), North Carolina A&T, did I realize everything that encompasses our rich history. The second semester of my freshman year, I took an African-American studies course that was taught by professor Joy Thompson.

In that class, I learned how my ancestors were far more than slaves and disenfranchised people. I learned that my ancestors were powerful African rulers and dignitaries such as Mansa Musa and Queen Tiye, who created some of the richest and most successful societies ever.

I learned that my ancestors created the University of Timbuktu, which was the first university on the planet.

I learned that my ancestors engineered their own versions of Wall Street that focused on black-owned businesses in both Durham, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I learned many accomplishments of black people. But most importantly, I learned that my ancestors were relevant. They were revolutionaries. They were innovators and they were influential without the presence of oppression.

As a young black boy in elementary school, I never had the same sense of pride in my people as I did sitting in Thompson’s class. I had to wait until I turned 19, until I attended an HBCU, to experience this.

“Going to an HBCU has shown me that black history is so diverse. When people think of HBCUs, people think of how they are predominantly black schools, which is true. But there is just so much diversity in the black community,” said Bradford Brooks, a junior multimedia journalism major from Charlotte, North Carolina. “Going to an HBCU has reassured me that our culture and history is so important, because without black history, there would be no history at all.”

I have always been proud to be black. But the inspiration and confidence that manifests in your spirit once you attend an HBCU is unmatched. Especially once you begin to learn about the true greatness of your people.

I guess that is what makes Black History Month at HBCUs so special. By learning how powerful black people are, I learned just how powerful I am.

On this day in black history: Ida B. Wells gets a stamp, MLK arrested in Selma, and more Black History Month: The Undefeated edition Feb. 1

Thursday marks the beginning of Black History Month. For the next 28 days (and beyond), we will provide a daily dose of inspirational stories and videos to help explain the complex history of the black experience and black identity in America.

Historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, and 11 years later the organization created Negro History Week, which originally occurred the second week in February. During the 1960s, it was expanded into a month on many college campuses, and in 1976, President Gerald R. Ford designated February as Black History Month.

Below are a few notable things that have taken place on Feb. 1.


1865 – First African-American admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Swett Rock was an American teacher, doctor, dentist, lawyer and abolitionist and one of the first African-American men to earn a medical degree. He was the first African-American to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

1865 – Ratification of the 13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery, was adopted by the 38th Congress. Ratification was completed on Dec. 6, 1865.

1960 – Sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina

Four students from North Carolina A&T College started a sit-in movement in Greensboro, North Carolina. By Feb. 10, the movement had spread to 15 cities in five Southern states.

1965 – Selma demonstration ends in 700 arrests

More than 700 demonstrators, including Martin Luther King Jr., are arrested in Selma, Alabama.

1978 – The first Black Heritage USA Series stamp is issued

The first stamp of the U.S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage USA series honors Harriet Tubman, famed abolitionist and “conductor” on the Underground Railroad.

1990 – U.S. Postal Service celebrated Ida B. Wells as part of the Black Heritage Series

The commemorative 25-cent stamp, the 13th entry in the series, was released at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

1997 – First 24-hour black movie channel, BET/Starz, was launched

BET Holdings and Encore Media Corp. launched BET/Starz, the first 24-hour black movie channel.

The Undefeated does 2017 The highs, the lows and the must-reads

Here at The Undefeated, we spent a trying 2017 attempting to cover the world through your eyes. We had the Colin Kaepernick saga on lock, the NFL protests covered. We learned from Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng that “the biggest misconception is people thinking Muslims are terrorists.” We reveled at Whitley Gilbert’s wardrobe and watched Tarik Cohen shine at North Carolina A&T before he was a rookie standout with the Chicago Bears. We showed you chic street style at Afropunk, brought back Drumline and demonstrated that love knows no color. 2017 was a tough year, but TU brought it to you, warts and all.

Hey, 2017, we’d hate to miss you but love to watch you leave.

Experiences

Collage of significant black Americans

The Undefeated 44 most influential black Americans in history A collection of dreamers and doers, noisy geniuses and quiet innovators, record-breakers and symbols of pride and aspiration.

Sports

Artist rendition of LeBron James making his way to the court from the locker rooms

LeBron Is Crowned On a Detroit night, about a decade ago — via 48 points in double overtime — LeBron graduated from ‘phenom’ to ‘grown man’

Culture

Artist rendition of Whitley

Whitley’s World “You can’t unsee A Different World. You’ve seen it, it’s kind of engraved in your psyche.”

HBCUs

Photo of the Honey Beez performing

Alabama State Honey Beez bring positive plus-size attitude to HBCU dance scene “Where one of us lacks, the other one will pick up. We’re plus-size girls and we still go through bullying in college. But we’re more confident now, so it’s not as bad. But we have a real sisterhood, and this is our home away from home. The Honey Beez took me all the way out of my shell, and I love it.”

The Uplift

Serge Ibaka and his daughter in a pool

NBA standout Serge Ibaka is a standout single father too “Since I was young I always dreamed of myself traveling, envisioned at least three, four kids, five. And then, I’m living my dream right now and something I always love to do, and it’s fun. It’s really changed my life. It’s changed everything about me. The way I think and the way I live my life. It changed everything.”

Videos

Leon Bridges at his piano

Leon Bridges sings his rendition of the national anthem The critically acclaimed soul singer explores the themes of the anthem, creating a beautiful rendition that feels like both a hymn and a benediction

Original Photography

Woman with a wig made of pink flowers

Inside Afropunk “They’re just the ‘standard of beauty’ and here you can be what you want and THAT’S beauty.”

Podcasts

The Plug podcast logo

The Plug It’s the debut of The Plug, hosted by Chiney Ogwumike, Kayla Johnson, Justin Tinsley and Tesfaye Negussie. In episode 1, the crew dives into current events, discuss LaVar Ball’s latest news, NFL social activism and more. Plus, hip-hop icons Jadakiss and Fabolous join.

  • All Day – The Undefeated Podcast: Clinton Yates spent a day in New York profiling various parts of the culture, when news broke that a legend had died. After spending the morning with the creators of Jopwell, a startup helping students of color in the tech industry, the the afternoon with Nike for a new shoe release, he ends up in Queens to talk with a family friend and musician about the life and influence of Mobb Deep’s Prodigy.
  • America’s Black History Museum: 9/20/16 – Jill Hudson, Justin Tinsley and Clinton Yates talk about the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the 86th Emmy Awards. Plus, Mike Wise discusses his story about Joe Paterno.
  • Morning Roast – The gang is all together, talking national anthem protests, possible NFL players strike, potential renaming of Yawkey Way and latest Bachelor in Paradise drama.
  • The Morning Roast & Live at NABJ – Clinton Yates is in for Bomani, and in hour three he is joined by Marc Spears and Myron Medcalf to discuss all the happenings at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.
  • Rhoden Fellows: HBCU 468: 5/11/17 – Stephen A. Smith praised Isaiah Thomas’ compelling effort in the playoffs and explained Kevin Durant’s impact on Golden State. He also talked about attending a historically black university.
  • O.J.: Made in America: 6/11/16 – Domonique Foxworth is joined by guests Jason Reid, Raina Kelley, Ezra Edelman, Sarah Spain and Carl Douglas as they take a look at O.J.: Made in America.

Remembering Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson The first woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues dies at 82

Hank Bayliss must have thought he was doing something. The Kansas City Monarchs third baseman was having himself a day running his mouth as he stood opposite of 5-foot-3, 115-pound Mamie Johnson.

He exclaimed that the right-handed pitcher was “no bigger than a peanut.” And he was no better at hitting after talking all that trash. Johnson, a Ridgeway, South Carolina, native, struck him out and turned the jab into her nickname.

She took all of the slights in stride, including when the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, an all-white league, turned Johnson away. She decided to play three seasons with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Leagues from 1953-55.

“They didn’t let us try out,” Johnson said in a 2003 interview with NPR. “They just looked at us like we were crazy, as if to say, ‘What do you want?’ ”

Johnson, the first woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues and a mentee of Negro Leagues baseball legend and Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, died on Dec. 19. She was 82. Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, announced her death. She was the last of the three women who played in the Negro Leagues to die. Toni Stone and Connie Morgan died in 1996.

“It’s a sad day for all of us,” Kendrick said Tuesday. “We lost a member of our family. She was truly a pioneer.

“It’s representative of the inclusive nature of the Negro Leagues, that it created an opportunity for women to do things that they weren’t allowed to do in the rest of the country.”

The Clowns, Hank Aaron’s team before he joined Major League Baseball, recruited Johnson to play on the team. Johnson compiled a 33-8 record in her three seasons with a .270 batting average.

Johnson credited Paige for her unhittable curveball.

“Tell you the truth, I didn’t know of his greatness that much. He was just another ballplayer to me at that particular time,” Johnson told The State (Columbia, South Carolina). “Later on, I found out exactly who he was.

“I got to meet and be with some of the best baseball players that ever picked up a bat, so I’m very proud about that,” Johnson said in an NPR interview.

It took many years for people to see Johnson, who was born in 1935, as a trailblazer. But when she finally started to get her due, it came in droves.

When she was out of season, Johnson attended New York University and eventually received a nursing degree from North Carolina A&T State University. At the conclusion of her career, Johnson focused on raising her son, Charles, and practiced as a nurse for three decades.

The 2002 book A Strong Right Arm, by Michelle Y. Green, is based on Johnson’s story. The White House hosted Johnson in 1999, and that same year, Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Bob Coble presented Johnson with a proclamation. A decade later, the Library of Congress welcomed her as a guest lecturer for a symposium.

A year before her Library of Congress lecture in 2008, Johnson and other living alumni from the Negro Leagues era were drafted by major league franchises. The Washington Nationals drafted Johnson, as she spent most of her adult life in the nation’s capital. The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, has Johnson in two exhibits: one dedicated to members of the Negro Leagues and another for women who have pioneered in the sport.

Ridgeway presented Johnson with a key to her hometown and named a street in her honor. In 2012, Mo’ne Davis, the phenom pitcher for the Little League World Series’ Anderson Monarchs, was introduced to Johnson.

As a child, Johnson had such a passion for pitching that she would forgo her work with the crops to play baseball. Her uncle, Leo “Bones” Belton, taught her how to throw by tossing stones at crows that sat perched on her grandparents’ fence.

“It’s what people do in the country,” Johnson told The State in 2010. “You use what you had.”

Said Kendrick: “We lost a voice with her passing, but her legacy plays on at the Negro Leagues Museum. Hers is a story of hope, a story of perseverance and an example of how to overcome adversity and achieve your dreams.”

N.C. A&T, Grambling players put rivalry aside to cheer up sick children They spread the message of hope at Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital in Atlanta

Walking onto the second floor of the Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital in Atlanta, you could see that the patients were anticipating something wonderful.

The children had a different sparkle in their eyes, almost as if they knew something special was going to happen, and they were right. Four players each from North Carolina A&T and Grambling State came to surprise patients at the hospital Friday morning. The players had a special interest in visiting these sick children because they are in the cancer and blood disorder center because of their diagnosis of sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder that causes red blood cells to become misshapen and break down.

Julius Reynolds, Garrett Nestor, Joshua Patrick and Dominic Frescura from North Carolina A&T joined De’Arius Christmas, Dre’ Fusilier, Ja’Terious Pouncy and Trenton Scott from Grambling State as they all came together to help brighten the day of kids in the downtown Atlanta children’s hospital.

“I think this was great for the kids. It brought the kids a lot of joy,” said Rodteshia Pickett, mother of newborn Shenella Pickett. “We got some signed memorabilia and they provided some great smiles for the children, and everyone seemed to enjoy the football players coming through and showing love.”

Pickett’s daughter was receiving a checkup from the hospital after she was born last Tuesday.

The Picketts were not the only ones receiving love from the athletes from two historically black universities. Many older children were ecstatic when they saw the towering football players walk onto the second floor bearing smiles and gifts.

“Not many football people come out and give out hats and come to the hospital and all that,” said Rodrika Fish, the mother of Marcel Fish and Sheron Fish, who were waiting at the hospital. “This was a great Christmas gift for these kids, and that should really make them smile and make them happy.”

While the eight players spent only about an hour with the patients, Pickett believes the impact the players had on these kids could go a long way in setting a positive precedent for these kids’ futures.

“This sets a great example for the kids and gives them a lot of inspiration; a lot of these kids are going to want to grow up and want to prosper to be something,” Pickett said. “Even if these kids don’t have a lot of money, they are going to want to be doing something to bring some type of light to other kids and give them hope like they were given hope today.”

North Carolina A&T and Grambling players left behind their rivalry over who will become the next historically black college champion. But in eyes of those kids at Hughes Spalding, all of those players are champions.