RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — NFL Hall of Fame linebacker and Richmond native Willie Lanier is on a mission to level the playing field for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the country.
Through the newly launched “Honey Bear Project,” Lanier aims to replace outdated and damaged athletic fields with modern, artificial turf fields at little to no cost to the HBCUs.
For Lanier, it’s about more than just the field itself, it’s about balancing out the inequities often seen at historically black colleges.
“How can you talk about being equal?” he asked. “How can you talk about an opportunity to expand if you’re not in the same kind of facility and view of others. How do you start taking the steps?”
The former linebacker said outdated fields put HBCUs at a competitive disadvantage before the ball is even kicked off. So, he began his mission at the stadium where he got his own start back in the 1960s — Virginia Union University’s Hovey Stadium.
While Lanier did not play for VUU, his high school team, Maggie Walker, often played their home games at Hovey Stadium. The field hadn’t been updated since 1907, making it one of the oldest in the country.
This changed in the Spring of 2020. Thanks to fundraising efforts by Lanier, a new, $1.2 million artificial turf was laid down. The field was renamed to “Willie Lanier Field at Hovey Stadium.”
“I’m trying to be part of a system with an equal in it,” Lanier said. “It makes me feel very good for the young men and women and youngsters in the area who will be able to have a facility with an equal in it.”
Over the next two years, The Honey Bear Project hopes to raise $50 million to install new surfaces at 36 HBCUs across the country. Lanier has partnered with the companies FieldTurf and LandTek to make this happen.
He’s hoping this project will not only increase competitiveness at HBCUs, but also bring awareness to the plight of their athletic programs.
“With these fields, I hope to leave a bigger footprint on the game of football,” he said. “I want athletes to know you have the ability to go somewhere, do something, and then have a hand in changing something that needs to be changed.”
You can donate to this project online here.