Public Education Matters

On April 22, 2023, some of the best college basketball players from around Ohio will go head-to-head against some of the best athletes from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the country on the Ohio State Campus in Columbus. But the athleticism on display during that matchup is only a small part of the purpose for this year's Classic for Columbus event, which also promotes education, economic development and diversity, while providing a platform to potentially bring more educators of color into the profession. The Classic for Columbus CEO and President explains.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CLASSIC| Click here for the full schedule of activities at this year's Classic for Columbus and more information about how the Classic supports HBCUs and scholarships at other higher education institutions. 

GET TICKETS | OEA members can take advantage of a 'buy two, get one free' ticket promotion if they purchase tickets for themselves and their families before March 24. Use this link to get three tickets for the price of two through the Classic for Columbus site:

Featured Education Matters guest: 
  • John Pace, Classic for Columbus CEO & President
    • John Pace is CEO/President of Classic For Columbus (CFC) based in Columbus, Ohio. The organization's mission is to promote education, economic development and diversity while raising funds for scholarships and institutions of higher learning. Under John's leadership, CFC awarded over $430,000 to scholarship programs and HBCUs in 2022. CFC produces large-scale events that include educational, cultural and entertainment festivities that complement collegiate football and basketball events. The organization's motto is: Optimize revenue and give it away. John has been producing major events in conjunction with Fortune 500 corporate sponsors for four decades. John's career began when he was a teenager and created a music awards program that became nationally acclaimed. John sold the intellectual property rights and trademark to Anheuser-Busch, which became part of the brewery's Michelob brand launch. Over the years, John's events have contributed millions of dollars to HBCUs and other community-based initiatives.   
Connect with OEA:
About us:
  • The Ohio Education Association represents about 120,000 teachers, faculty members and support professionals who work in Ohio’s schools, colleges, and universities to help improve public education and the lives of Ohio’s children. OEA members provide professional services to benefit students, schools, and the public in virtually every position needed to run Ohio’s schools.
  • Education Matters host Katie Olmsted serves as Media Relations Consultant for the Ohio Education Association. She joined OEA in May 2020, after a ten-year career as an Emmy Award winning television reporter, anchor, and producer. Katie comes from a family of educators and is passionate about telling educators' stories and advocating for Ohio's students. She lives in Central Ohio with her husband and two young children.
This episode was recorded on February 8, 2023.

What is Public Education Matters?

Ohio's public schools serve 1.6 million children - 90 percent of students in the state! What happens in the classroom has impacts far beyond the walls of the K-12 school building or higher ed lecture hall. So, on behalf of the 120,000 members of the Ohio Education Association, we're taking a deeper dive into some of the many education issues facing our students, educators, and communities. Originally launched in 2021 as Education Matters, Public Education Matters is your source for insightful conversations with the people who shape the education landscape in Ohio. Have a topic you'd like to hear about on Public Education Matters? Email us at

Intro 0:07
This is Education Matters, brought to you by the Ohio Education Association.

Katie Olmsted 0:15
Thanks for joining us for another edition of Education Matters. I'm Katie Olmsted, part of the communications team for the Ohio Education Association and the 120,000 public school educators OEA represents. Ohio's public schools serve about 1.6 million students of all races, backgrounds and genders -- students who deserve to see themselves reflected in their curriculum and at the front of their classrooms. But unfortunately, our schools have too few educators of color right now. Think about it. 17% of Ohio's public school students are Black, but only about 4% of teachers are. That's a problem. If we want to have the best possible schools for our children, and the best possible Ohio for all of us, we need to bring more educators of color into the profession and keep them there. And that means some systemic changes, like removing financial barriers that are keeping people of all backgrounds away from becoming educators, among other challenges. At this year's Classic for Columbus on April 22nd, OEA plans to give a scholarship to an Aspiring Educator who is studying to become a teacher at Central State University, one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, here in Ohio. And OEA is a proud sponsor of the Classic for Columbus event itself because of the important work it does to support students at HBCUs and other higher ed institutions across the country. For more on what we can expect it this year's Classic and beyond, we asked John Pace, the Classic for Columbus CEO and President to join us for this episode.

John Pace, I am so excited to talk to you today about the Classic for Columbus because I am so excited about this year's Classic for Columbus, having the event back bigger, better. I just I'm so excited to have this in our community once again. For people who are unfamiliar with the Classic, what are we talking about here?

John Pace 2:24
Oh, thank you so much for having me, Katie. And it's always a pleasure to talk with you. Classic for Columbus, we are a not for profit, and the space we operate in is sports, culture, and entertainment events. And we do that to raise money for education and scholarships. And so the event we have coming up in April is the College Basketball All Star Game and Celebrity Extravaganza. It is an entire day of educational, multicultural and entertainment events at the Schottenstein Center on April 22. And so it's a whole day of activities beginning at 12 Noon, with the College Career and Community fair. We also have the Women's Empowerment Mixer and panel discussion, the wealth education, talkback, the greater Columbus basketball legends Hall of Fame, induction ceremony and more.

Katie Olmsted 3:22
And of course, as you mentioned, this helps support education to help support HBCUs -- Historically Black Colleges and Universities -- But this isn't just for HBCU alums. This is a much bigger event for everyone.

John Pace 3:36
Absolutely. Our mission at Classic for Columbus is to promote education, economic development and diversity. While we raise money for scholarships and institutions of higher learning of course, we do put special emphasis on HBCUs but not exclusively, and in our first year by doing an HBCU football classic and by presenting the first college basketball all star game and extravaganza, we were able to grant and contribute over $430,000 to institutions of higher learning and scholarships.

Katie Olmsted 4:17
What an amazing accomplishment. OEA was very proud to be a sponsor for last year's basketball classic. We're so proud to be back again. And as part of our sponsorship this year, we're also going to be giving away a $5,000 scholarship to a future educator at Central State University. All of the work you're doing with the Classic fits in so well with the work that we're doing as an organization to help diversify the education profession. As you know, there is a pretty severe shortage of people of color as educators in Ohio and it doesn't reflect the students we serve - but also to really just to support public education in general. Why is this such an important mission to you personally?

John Pace 5:06
Well, Katie, our partnership with the Ohio Education Association is one of the most important, important partnerships, that Classic for Columbus has. At Classic for Columbus, we believe that education is the pathway to upward mobility. And so what the Ohio Education Association does, working with teachers, protecting teachers, and facilitating a pathway to become an educator is so important to us. And so yes, we understand the importance of social justice and protest, we understand the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. But what we say here at Classic for Columbus, Katie: "Opportunity without preparation leads to termination." So you may have a job opportunity, but if you're not prepared for that particular job, you're not going to be able to keep that job. And of course, the way to prepare is through education. So we say education is the pathway to upward mobility,

Katie Olmsted 6:12
Having the College and Career Fair as part of that is really facilitating those connections that that this event really creates in the community. What are your expectations for this year's event, and for that part of it, especially?

John Pace 6:27
So at the College Career and Community Fair, we start it at 12 noon on April 22, at the Schottenstein Center on the campus of The Ohio State University. And so we focus in, Katie, on three groups, who will be vendors at the college career and community fair. We have employers, and so employers from all across Ohio will be there and they'll do interviews. In some cases, they'll accept resumes and applications. And so it's a great place, whether you're a recent college graduate, or if you're looking for a career change, or just interested in some opportunities, it's a great place to come and talk with some of our employers. The second group is educational institutions. So whether it's the skilled trade professionals are colleges, we've been able to connect over 4500 students with enrollment opportunities, with internships, summer internships, with summer jobs for students. And so that's the second group that we work with is educational institutions. And then community based organizations can come out and pass out literature, engage with the community, and they're able to have new volunteers, new supporters. So we're really proud of the College, Career, and Community Fair, where we are able to connect the community, with employers with educational institutions, and community based organizations.

Katie Olmsted 8:11
And you're also connecting people in other ways, with the Classic for Columbus Academy. What can you tell me about that?

John Pace 8:18
So we have been in the major event space for over four decades. And now what we have an opportunity to do, Katie, is to leverage the events that we do in classic for Columbus, of course, we do the football game, we do the basketball game. And we have some other events in the concept stage that we will be bringing to life in the next year or two. We are going to leverage all of these events to provide a real life educational experience for high school students and get your students and we're going to focus on major event management, sports and entertainment marketing in hospitality. And so through this academy, we're going to be training the next generation of corporate captains, if you will, Katie. So this academy, we're going to provide 100 hours of training. Forty hours will be in the classroom, and they'll learn transferable skills across multiple disciplines. And then there will be 60 hours of supervised work on our events. And so there'll be getting a real life experience, really, about how to manage how to plan how to bring a concept to life,

Katie Olmsted 9:46
and how to make an event as big as the classic for Columbus. A huge success. I know this year is we're seeing a few changes from what we saw last spring with the basketball program. One of the big ones is a venue change. I'm really excited to see it at the Schott because I think it's going to be a really nice, I mean, as intimate as a giant arena can get, a really good fit for this event. Another big thing that is happening this year that I don't I can't believe we didn't mention off the top, we're adding a concert, a big concert who's coming.

John Pace 10:19
So the addition, as you said, to the All Star game extravaganza is the world class R&B concert that will do year after year. This year, to introduce it, we're featuring the Isley Brothers and what a tradition. They're icons and R&B icons and pop and rock. And they're from Cincinnati, Ohio, so we're glad to welcome them back home. And their first hit was back in 1959. And so they have decades and decades of hits. And so we might be there all night listening to all their hits, but it's just going to be a great culmination to a whole day of educational, multicultural and entertainment events. And it all culminates with the Isley Brothers concert. One ticket gets you all of the events, including the concert.

Katie Olmsted 11:16
Little plug here: OEA members, there are promotions to make the tickets even more affordable for you. I believe there is a buy two get one free promotion for the tickets going on through the month of February. We'll have the details for all of this in the show notes for this episode. I want to go back to one thing you said before John. You mentioned that the R&B concerts are here to stay, that's going to be part of the event moving forward. You also earlier mentioned some concepts in the works. It was a bit of a tease. Do you have any anything you can share about what's ahead what the strategic future of this event will be?

John Pace 11:52
Sure. So we've started talking to HBCU presidents about a program that we really plan to launch either '24 or '25 and it is Miss HBCU Honors. Now, it is a pageant-like event, but it's not going to be the pageants that really focus on the appearance. This is going to be a global stage, where females, both undergraduate and graduate students at all 107 HBCUs, will have a global stage to showcase leadership, humanitarianism, their ability to solve problems, their ability to lead. And so this is really a showcase for tomorrow's CEOs and tomorrow's entrepreneurs.

Katie Olmsted 12:47
I love the idea of seeing tomorrow's CEOs and tomorrow's entrepreneurs today. John, were you an HBCU grad yourself?

John Pace 12:56
You know, I was one of many people in my generation, who we weren't educated about HBCUs. I was well out of high school and in college before I ever knew what an HBCU is. And so part of my motivation, is to make sure that there are no students who will be saying that 5, 10 years from now, we want every student to have it as an alternative. All of my family except for myself, were Buckeyes. So my father was one of the first directors at Ohio State of color back in the 60s. My siblings followed him into Ohio State and I'm the youngest. I didn't follow him. I'm a Franklin University guy. But all of my family - so but we want students, we want families to have that alternative. HBCUs are a good alternative for some students. And so we want them to know about it. And that's part of our motivation. And so 1000s and 1000s of young people have been persuaded to go to college, they came to one of our sports and entertainment and cultural events, really not thinking about college, they came for the fun of it. But when they saw the culture, and when they saw the camaraderie, the sisterhood, the brotherhood, the tradition, all of these things you'll see at our event, and they go on HBCU campuses on a day to day basis, and then they see 60, 70, 80 year olds still in fellowship with those students they were they went to college with, and so those kinds of relationships are never broken. And it inspires them, Katie, for the first time to really think about college and many of them follow through and enroll at an HBCU when they couldn't see themselves fitting into one of the PWIs or traditional universities.

Katie Olmsted 15:01
And that's something all of us in public education, it's sort of our mantra that if you can see it, you can be it. And that's why diversity in our classrooms is so important. It's so important to have educators at the front of the classroom that look like the students they're serving so that students, regardless of their race, regardless of their background, can say that can be me someday.

John Pace 15:24

Katie Olmsted 15:24
So creating this event that says, 'hey, you could be at this HBCU, this could be your future.' That's certainly something that I think fits in with our wheelhouse pretty well there. For people who are not that familiar with it, again, this is an education campaign about what HBCUs are, what would you say? What makes them such an important opportunity to provide? How can they help set people up for success?

John Pace 15:49

Katie Olmsted 15:50
- that's not the same way as a traditional college that is predominantly dominated by, you know, white people like me.

John Pace 15:56
For sure, sure. So some students need special attention. And some students really thrive when they're in an environment of people who come from where they come from, relate to them in a special way, and look like them. And so for that need, HBCUs are tremendous. The educators and HBCUs are really caring, but they're really demand. They're really demanding. And they're at that HBCU understanding that many of the students who they're educating will have additional needs. And so they don't draw the line at history, or some of the disciplines that are in the curriculum, they also are nurturers, they're also mentors. And in some instances, they play the role of the parent.

Katie Olmsted 17:03
I think it's worth pointing out that you're mentioning that some students do better in an environment where people look like them, they have their same culture. I'm white, I have been taught my entire life by people who look like me and share my culture.

John Pace 17:16
Well, yes. You know, when we talk about diversity, Katie, we oftentimes stop at race. But diversity is beyond race, and includes of course, disabled. I was born legally blind, much to most people's surprise, but I was born legally blind, but I've had a lifetime to adapt. But for everyone, it's not easy to adapt. So diversity includes disabled, LGBTQ, you know, people with a lifestyle that is unique to most of us. And so diversity doesn't stop at race. We are going to - I'll drop a nugget here, Katie. We're working on a campaign right now for Central Ohio. And it's the "Yes, you" campaign. Yes, you. So when you're in a minority, oftentimes, something that you've earned will happen, let's say you get that promotion that you've worked so hard for. Or let's say you get invited to dinner with the majority community, and it just completely surprises you. Or you get to make that team and you're one of the minorities on that team. And so when something wonderful happens to a minority, sometimes we have a 'who me?' moment, right? Who me? You know, when we're called out for that promotion, who me? Or when we're invited to that white person's house at dinner, who me? You know. Or when a LGBTQ person is invited into a heterosexual environment. They're like, who me? And so we say here in Columbus, the answer to 'who me?' is, 'Yes, you.' Right. And so that's the kind of Columbus we're developing here is a city that provides Who Me experiences time and time again? And when that when that response is Who me? Columbus says, "Yes, you."

Katie Olmsted 19:31
Yes, you. I love it. And I love everything you're doing for the Classic for Columbus to really bring people together and give those opportunities for everyone to have a yes, you.

John Pace 19:44
Absolutely. Absolutely, Katie, and I cannot thank Ohio Education Association enough. You're leaders in diversity, you're leaders in education, you're leaders in so so many areas, even those areas where it's not popular and you take a stand without concern for what the repercussions might be and stand up for what's right. And so we applaud you, Katie, and we applaud the Ohio Education Association. Classic for Columbus is honored to have you as a partner.

Katie Olmsted 20:19
And we are so honored to be a partner. John Pace, thank you so so much.

John Pace 20:23
Thank you, Katie.

Katie Olmsted 20:27
If you want to support the mission of the Classic for Columbus, tickets for the big event on April 22 are on sale right now. Full details, and a promo code for OEA members across the state who'd like to come with their families, are in the show notes for this episode. And while you're online, make sure you subscribe to Education Matters wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss a conversation like this in the future. Plus, if you have thoughts on the kinds of conversations you'd like to hear in the future, please send me an email with your ideas for future episodes at Until next time, stay well.

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