United Negro College Fund: 75 Years of Fundraising for HBCUs and Counting

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Michael Lomax (center), United Negro College Fund President and CEO, poses with HBCU students

Since billionaire Robert F. Smith’s generous move to pay off the debt of Morehouse students during Morehouse’s 2019 commencement ceremony, there has been much talk of the future of HBCUs and their existing budget issues. Nevertheless, they’ve served as shining beacons for black students all over the nation since 1837 when the first HBCU, Cheney University, opened its doors.

Crucial to HBCUs’ success are the organizations that help to keep them in business, such as the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund, which fund raise on their behalf and provide scholarships for the students who need it the most.

Just last week, 22 students attending college at UNCF-member colleges across the United States were selected by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In total, 44 students were recognized. According to a press release, “44 students from 34 HBCUs were selected as 2019 HBCU Competitiveness Scholars—the Initiative’s highest student recognition illustrating that HBCUs produce, often against the odds, strong, impressive results and educational, economic, and societal impacts for their students, the communities in which they are located and for our nation.”

 “We are very pleased to see UNCF-supported students are being recognized by the White House Initiative on HBCUs. Talented students like these deserve this prestigious honor and demonstrate how much our colleges and universities continue to do for deserving students of color,” said Dr. Michael L. Lomax, UNCF president and CEO.

With 2019 as the 75th anniversary of UNCF, known as “the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization,” we spoke to Lisa Rollins, Chicago area development director, to learn more about how the organization operates and the future of its work.

TNJ.com: In reflecting on the 75th anniversary of UNCF, how has the organization empowered students to earn college degrees?

Rollins: As we reflect on this tremendous milestone, we look back at our predecessors, the giants on whose shoulders we stand, and continue to pay it forward through the 400 programs and more than 10,000 scholarships we award to students of color each year to advance their education. Through this support, we give students the resources they need to fulfill their potential and work to offer the next generation of leaders—not some of them but all—an education our economy demands and that they deserve.

TNJ.com: Tell me a bit about the year-long celebration of fundraising events being planned across the country.

Rollins: In March, we conducted our national gala, honoring some of the hundreds of thousands of UNCF friends who have had a hand in building what UNCF has done during the last 75 years—more than 450,000 college degrees earned and more than $4.8 billion in contributions raised. It was a moment of pride and celebration, but it was also a time of recommitment.

Culminating with our signature fundraising gala in Atlanta this year on December 21st, we are celebrating and working hard to raise vitally needed funding for deserving students and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) through our trademark events held throughout the United States. We encourage UNCF supporters and education advocates across the country to get involved—attend a gala, volunteer for a walk and give to make a difference in a student’s life.

TNJ.com: Any short to long term goals the organization is working on?

Rollins: Throughout 75 years of service, UNCF’s core mission has remained the same. UNCF has more than doubled the number of minorities attending college. We’re proud to have helped cultivate some of the country’s most brilliant minds for decades, annually supporting more than 60,000 students attending more than 1,100 colleges. Still, for every scholarship UNCF gives a student in need, we must turn away nine other applicants due to a lack of funding. So 75 years from now, UNCF seeks to have (1) doubled the number of students we have been able to get to and through college; (2) created generations of new leaders; and (3) secured a UNCF legislative and appropriations agenda that ensures all African American students will have equal education access.