ATLANTA, Ga. – John Grant likes to tell a story. He’s recanted it so many times at this point, he’s able to add extra flourishes and really hammer it home to new audiences. This day’s retelling falls right after a TV interview Grant has recorded in the catacombs of the Georgia Dome the day before the inaugural Celebration Bowl. Dressed in a black suit, Grant clasps his hands together and laughs when he’s asked to predict how many people he expects at the game on Saturday. “A lot,” he responds.
The story goes that in 1892, the very first game between HBCUs (historically black college and universities) was played in the snow between Livingstone College and Biddle College right on the lawn of Livingstone’s main building in Salisbury, North Carolina. The two teams attached cleats to their dress shoes, and the uniforms were made on campus in the textiles department. The final score was 5-0.
“That was 123 years ago,” Grant says. “Now we’re here, and our players have the best uniforms, and the best cleats, and they’re getting set to play a game in an NFL stadium on national television. This is powerful. This is important. HBCUs are critically important to the fabric of our nation, and this is our chance to showcase that.”
Grant is the executive director of the Celebration Bowl and the CEO of Atlanta’s 100 Black Men, which aims to support and enrich the African American community by focusing on leadership and youth services. He also serves on the boards of a variety of different non-profits in the Atlanta area. At an event hosted by ESPN a week prior to the Celebration Bowl, Grant gave an impromptu toast to a group of media at the STATS sports bar, welcoming everyone to the unofficial start of bowl season.