Marcel Blackbird drove 63 people, mostly kids and coaches, in 15 vans to attend the Nebraska-Fordham football game.
It all happened because he made a phone call.
Now, he is trying to get his Class B commercial driver’s license so he can drive a bus down to bring more kids.
It’s all part of the Red Carpet Experience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, launched in 2021, that gives more families the opportunity to attend a Nebraska football game
The trips are an experience for Blackbird to stress the core values he holds dear. When he heard about the Red Carpet Experience, he immediately jumped at the opportunity to make an impact for kids in his community. Blackbird said he brings children who are respectful, have good grades, have good attendance and are well-behaved.
“If you act right and do what you’re supposed to do then you get to go and do fun things,” Blackbird said.
The ‘Sea of Red’ on Huskers game days creates an environment that can be found nowhere else in Nebraska — when 90,000 fans all wearing the same shade of red gather in Memorial Stadium to create the third-largest city in the state. An emphatic roar of a “Husker Power” chant becomes a tug-of-war game between the East and West sides of the stadium that echoes across the Haymarket in downtown Lincoln. The Huskers hold the NCAA sell-out streak even after four consecutive losing seasons.
The typical family in the US consists of two parents and two children in a household, though family can spread much farther than the walls of a home. This is the case for Blackbird. He has six children at home who keep him busy.
But when he steps out of his home, his family expands to the rest of his tribe in Winnebago, Neb.
“I wanted to help encourage them to pursue their dreams and stay off the streets,” Blackbird said. “There are a lot of athletes that come from the same walk of life that they do. I want them to see that they’re not alone.”
Once Blackbird heard about the Red Carpet Experience, he made a call to Lawrence Chatters, Ph.D., senior associate athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Chatters stepped forward with an idea on how to offer unsold tickets to donors to purchase and then provide the tickets to families who couldn’t normally afford the price of admission. Two university donors picked up the tab for the remaining 2,400 tickets and the Red Carpet Experience was born.
The idea came to him after reflecting on his own experiences of being a kid growing up in Nebraska.
“My idea of why to do that comes from my own personal story of growing up and my family never being able to afford to go to a game,” Chatters said. “I wanted young people like myself to be able to go whose parents couldn’t afford it.”
Winnebago, a town in the northeast corner of the state, has a population of 767 with a median household income of $27,014 in 2019, according to city-data.
Getting to experience events like this may not be the easiest for Winnebago families. They may not be able to because of their financial situation, travel or a variety of other reasons.
Blackbird tries to be a positive influence for the Winnebago and sports allow him to do just that. He coaches girls’ basketball, fifth and sixth grade football as well as girls’ softball. Being a part of these teams allows him to make an impact and teach lessons to the youth in his community.
Since their first trip to Memorial Stadium, the athletics department announced that the Red Carpet Experience will not be exclusive to football and extended to volleyball matches and men’s and women’s basketball games.
Blackbird said he hopes to show more people in his community the Red Carpet Experience. His son was one of those children who came to the Fordham game. He and the rest of the group got up close and personal with some of the players. Some of them came back out on the field to play catch and sign autographs.
“Getting to high-five the players as they ran back to the locker room was amazing,” Angelo Blackbird said.
Of the 63 people who attended the Fordham game with Blackbird, 50 of them were children, and many of whom had never been to a Nebraska game before.
With many of the Native American children, Blackbird stressed the importance of making a good first impression.
“I always tell them that wherever you go, you’re not only representing yourself but also your family, your community and your tribe, too,” he said.