By Dennis J. Freeman
United Negro College Fund (UNCF) President and CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax wants to raise $78 million to help financially-strapped students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities accomplish their goals of receiving an education. Considering the country’s current economic climate and the continued erosion of funding raised to support HBCUs, this is no small task to achieve.
Even with President Barack Obama adding an extra $98 million for the next 10 years to HBCUs through legislation, the need for allocated funds to assists student attending back colleges is perhaps greater than it has ever been before. More money is always better. More money is needed now. More money raised simply means more students will have an opportunity to pursue the American Dream of obtaining a quality education.
Getting a quality education translates into quality employment gains, said Lomax, attending UNCF’s Evening of Stars star-studded gala at the Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, California. Lomax said UNCF is expecting to raise at least $3 million from this year’s event, which will be broadcast in September on Black Entertainment Television (BET).
“The challenges of a difficult economy are always there,” Lomax said in an interview with News4usonline.com. “We know in our community that when the economy is sick black folks get pneumonia. We’re always the hardest hit by a tough economy. But our community believes deeply in education and recognizes the absolute value of it.”
Upping the graduation rates of black students is a priority goal of UNCF, Lomax said. And the way to do that is to see more financial contributions being made on behalf of supporting the HBCUs that UNCF reaches out to, he added.
“We have about a seven percent unemployment rate among African Americans with a bachelor’s degree,” Lomax said. “That number doubles for African Americans with only a high school diploma. It’s difficult. It’s challenging to get that education. But we want to see more African Americans get that. Our goal at UNCF is to double the number of African Americans who earn a college degree. This year 120,000 African Americans will earn a college degree. We want to get that number closer to a quarter of a million.”
UNCF currently has 38 HBCUs its financial hands support. One of those schools happens to be Access Hollywood host Shaun Robinson’s alma mater Spelman College, an all-female institution of higher learning in Atlanta. Robinson said she found her experience at a historically black college to be enriching in many facets of her life. A huge supporter of UNCF, Robinson said she wants to see other students receive the type of opportunity she got.
“The type of education that I got at this historically black college it just gave me a sense of who I was as a black woman and my place in this world, something that I don’t think I would have gotten anywhere else. I’m just so proud to be a representative and to encourage other young people to attend historically black colleges. Being here to support UNCF and the work they do is very rewarding to me. It’s also my way of giving back and to say thank you for making my experience possible.”
With the slashing of financial budgets across the board at just about every higher institutions of learning, the survival of HBCUs ultimately rests on our shoulders, Robinson said.
“I think in the end it is going to be up to us like it has always been up to us,” Robinson said. “We can depend up on grants and fundraising and the government to legislate and what not. But in the end, it’s going to be up to us to help provide that quality education for our young black people. We can never depend on anybody else to do it one hundred percent.”
Incorporated in 1944, UNCF has raised more $615 million in scholarship money for nearly 50,000 students. It may have to raise even more money for the upcoming generation of prospective students at HBCUs. Esteemed HBCUs such as Morris Brown, Clark Atlanta, Wilberforce University, even Spelman College have all gone through rocky economic times in recent years.
This means that the work and financial assistance that UNCF provide to HBCUs is even more critical to the success of the students at those types of institutions. Actor Lance Gross (House of Payne), a Howard University graduate, said creating awareness about money being available to students is also part of that solution.
“Being a graduate of an HBCU, I feel like as a celebrity we have a platform to inspire,” Gross said. “I’m always for a good cause. There is a lot of money that is available for us. We just have to do the research. It’s out there; we just have to work for it. Hard work pays off.”
Going to college and getting an education was not an option for actress Jill Marie Jones (Girlfriends). It was a mandate. While she viewed an acting career as what she wanted to do with her life, Jones said her mother got it in her head that going to college shouldn’t take a backseat to anything.
“Education is so important,” Jones said. “For us, I think we have to inspire our own more. I never believed in a plan B, but my mother was like if you want to go and do this entertainment thing, you’re going to go school first and then whatever you want to do after you have that locked is what you’re going to do.”