“More than just a game.”

This is the Freedom Classic Festival’s mantra and it has held true for nearly a quarter-century.

Outside the FCF game day’s high-octane match-up on the hardwood, the festival’s educational programming holds precedence too.

Every year, the festival changes hundreds of lives through its STEM-ED Connects and Leadership Summit programs.

Around the country, school curriculum is focusing on STEM-ED (science, technology, engineering, mathematics, entrepreneurship and design) due to the rapid career shift from industrial to digital.

Albeit forward thinking, and yet, women and minorities make up only a tiny fraction of the STEM-ED workforce.

The statistics are staggering.

While women make up half of total college-educated workforce, less than a third work in the science and engineering fields.

Minority women make up fewer than 10% of all scientists and engineers.

And African Americans make up less than 5% (compared to 67% among whites) of the available 6.4 million STEM jobs.

There is hope, however.

That’s where STEM-ED Connects comes into play.

Through the program, local STEM-ED professionals engage with Richmond middle and high school students — largely minorities — to share about their professions and give advice for getting into their respective fields.

Here, students get to see and hear the information they read in their textbooks come to life.

On top of that, they’re seeing and hearing it from people who look like them.

Over the years, students, teachers and professionals alike have sung the program’s praises and continues to be a highly anticipated part of the festival programming.

The Leadership Summit — which is fairly similar in design to STEM-ED Connects — gathers local professionals in financial literacy, business, entrepreneurship and community activism.

The end goal is to empower and motivate students to take an active hand in their futures.

Both programs have brought in notable names such as Marc Cheatham, Enjoli Moon, Shane Thomas and Todd Waldo, among others.

Next, MEGA Mentors — created in 2009 — shepherds Chesterfield Public School (CPS) students through mentorship, tutoring, and teaching leadership and life skills. To date, the organization has served more than 500 students and raised thousands of scholarship dollars for its graduating seniors.

Since its inception, MEGA Mentors has made significant strides within Chesterfield County’s schools.

A pass rate of more than 75%.

A rise in graduating seniors with post-graduate plans.

And positive trends in attendance, grades, and overall diligence.

As a result, there’s an increased demand for MEGA Mentors programming at surrounding schools and districts.

Additionally, MEGA Mentors hosts its annual Fine Art Benefit & Sale, typically on the Friday leading up to FCF game day. The Benefit & Sale showcases artwork by world-renowned African American artist—and even CPS students—which attendees bid on throughout the evening.

The sale helps fund various field trips, materials, resources, and programming, such as sending students and their families to the Freedom Classic Festival game day free of charge.

Finally, the festival also awards grants and scholarships to the winner of the annual high school drumline showcase and to Virginia State University’s — the alma mater of Freedom Classic Festival founder Ken Johnson — athletic foundation.

As we stated in the beginning, the Freedom Classic Festival is more than a game.

It’s more than a rivalry.

It’s more than fanfare and HBCU culture.

It’s about community, education and overall wellness.

It’s about mentorship.

Most importantly, it’s about the future.