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‘Ambassador’ Stephen A. Smith honored during HBCU Week

First Take, Magic Johnson and bands are part of celebration at Delaware State

2:44 PMFirst Take co-host Stephen A. Smith has never been shy about representing and giving back to Winston-Salem State University. It was at this very historically black university in North Carolina where Smith learned the core principles and values he continues to hold dear today. And now, the university is showing appreciation for its famous alumnus with a student-athlete scholarship in his honor.

Winston-Salem State chancellor Elwood Robinson made the announcement during the second hour of First Take, which was broadcast live from the 76ers Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Delaware, on the last day of HBCU Week.

“We wanted to say how much we appreciate what you do for HBCUs,” Robinson said. “But we also appreciate what you do from Winston-Salem State University. Because of your generosity, because of your giving, students get a first-class education. Because of you, the Red Sea of Sound is here today. And because of you and your generosity, Money magazine said in 2019 that Winston-Salem State University was the No. 1 public HBCU in the country for best value, and that is because of folks like you.”

Smith, who graduated from the university in 1991, accepted the honor with pride, and even cracked jokes about himself while looking at a poster-size photo from his time as a member of the Winston-Salem State Rams men’s basketball team.

It was important for Smith, an ambassador for HBCU Week, to end the week on a positive note. HBCU Week, which was started three years ago in Wilmington, Delaware, featured a weeklong series of events and celebrations, all while promoting the importance of historically black colleges and universities.

“I’m an ambassador for HBCU Week,” Smith said. “I’m a graduate of Winston-Salem State University. … You’ve got a lot of folks that come from HBCUs, a lot of folks that want to come to HBCUs, a lot of folks that may not know about HBCUs. And obviously we’re here to bring attention to HBCUs, particularly to help those especially from impoverished backgrounds to let them know they can have an opportunity to go to college and get a higher education as well.”

The show opened with a grand entrance by Winston-Salem State’s Red Sea of Sound, a marching band that now stands at No. 1 in the Top 10 Division II Rankings of the ESPN/The Undefeated HBCU Band Rankings. NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson joined the show and expressed his feelings about why HBCUs are so important.

“God is so good,” Johnson said. “When you think about Stephen A. going to a historically black college, then being the superstar and celebrity that he is, to come back home and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be the ambassador for historically black colleges.’ Only God can have his hand on Stephen A. and all these tremendous students here. … This is what it’s all about. The education that you can get at a historically black college is second to none, and life experiences you get are second to none.”

Before diving into the scheduled basketball segment, Johnson left the audience with words that will hopefully resonate with the students in attendance.

“You may grow up poor, but you don’t have to have poor dreams,” Johnson said. “I grew up poor, but I didn’t have poor dreams. So I was dreaming that I was going to be a businessman one day, and I applied myself and I worked my butt off to get there. And here I am.”

Both the Red Sea of Sound and Delaware State University’s band, The Approaching Storm, took turns leading the show in and out of commercial breaks while simultaneously entertaining the crowd behind the scenes. Later in the show, Smith and co-hosts Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim were joined by former NFL defensive back Troy Vincent, who is currently the league’s executive vice president of football operations.

Stephen A. Smith (left) is surprised on the set of First Take in Wilmington, Delaware, with a scholarship named in his honor at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.

Photo by Mikey Reeves / ESPN Images

Vincent also stressed the importance of HBCUs and how NFL players who attended HBCUs are some of the ones who’ve made the biggest impact on the game.

“It seems like the narrative of student-athletes or students from historically black colleges have been forgotten,” Vincent said. “When we think about our HBCUs, we really think about black excellence. It’s always been that way historically through time, and at the National Football League level we felt like the greatest players who have ever played the game at the professional football level have come from historically black colleges. But beyond the playing field, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists — they’re there as well on those campuses.”

The program also highlighted legends in sports and entertainment who graduated from or attended HBCUs before ending by surprising Smith with the scholarship in his honor. Those featured included Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Jerry Rice, Michael Strahan, Steve McNair and Wilma Rudolph.