Smithsonian’s Lonnie Bunch honored at UNCF fundraiser

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Founding Director Lonnie Bunch III was a recipient of recognition at the 6th Annual United Negro College Fund Mayor's Masked Ball,

Raising money to get young men and women to college is the primary objective of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). Using those monetary funds for scholarships to advance the education of college students attending one of the 37 historically black colleges and universities its supports is a mandate for UNCF. Part of its ongoing fundraising efforts is putting on the yearly United Negro College Fund Mayor’s Masked Ball.

The 6th Annual United Negro College Fund Mayor’s Masked Ball, which raised $500,000, was held on Saturday, March 18 at the JW Marriott at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles. The UNCF dinner, hosted by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, featured appearances by celebrities such as actor Michael Jai White (Spawn, Why Did I Get Married), Dawnn Lewis (A Different World) and Salli Richardson-Whitfield (I Am Legend).

Among those attending the 6th Annual United Negro College Fund Mayor’s Masked Ball was singer and actress Dawnn Lewis (second left), actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield, actor Dondre Whitfield and actor Michael Jai White (far right).

Some of the Ball’s marquee sponsors included Delta, Edison International, and Xerox. The biggest function of the gala event is honoring select individuals who has made contributions in the arts, education and entertainment. This year’s honorees were Marx Cazenave, co-founder and former CEO of Progressive Investment Management Company, and Lonnie G Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Mr. Bunch at the Ball, and he was so gracious to answer various questions on being recognized with the UNCF honor and about the newly minted Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti wears his mask as he attends the 6th Annual United Negro College Fund Mayor’s Masked Ball on Saturday, March 18, 2017.

Stephanie Richardson: Congratulations on being honored. How do you feel about being here at the UNCF Masked Ball?

Lonnie Bunch III: “It’s so important to me, not so much because I’m being honored, but because of what UNCF stands for. As somebody that went to an historically black college, I know how crucially important it is for people who have a desire to learn to get the support from UNCF, plus Los Angeles is a place that shaped my career. I lived here for six years and built a museum. And so, a lot of what I learned that I now use in Washington, I learned here in Los Angeles. I’m very honored and happy to be back.”

Stephanie Richardson: Can you speak to us about the [Smithsonian National Museum] of African American History and Culture and its history, how it came together and what we have to look forward to when we do visit? Eventually, I will be making my way to see this spectacular museum.

Lonnie Bunch III: “This was a 100-year struggle; And for me, I gave twelve years of my career to build this museum. The fact that now it’s open and we expected 4,000 visitors a day-we are getting 8,000 visitors a day-what I love more than anything else is that a diverse of Americans crossing racial and party lines, coming together and actually understanding more about who we are as Americans and begin to talk to each other. For me, I wasn’t interested in building a museum just to be something to look back; I wanted a museum that would make America better, that would be as much about today and tomorrow as it is yesterday. And so that’s my hope. What people realize is that they’ll walk away from the museum a new generation of activist, people who realize that America has been made better by African Americans demanding that it live up to its stated ideals, and now it’s your turn.”

Lonnie G Bunch III (right), founding director Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, dines at the 6th Annual United Negro College Fund Mayor’s Masked Ball on Saturday, March 18, 2017.

Stephanie Richardson: How do you feel about the state of the presidency right now, especially with Mr. Trump having visited you at the museum? And (what about) the many racially and insensitive comments he has made towards many multi-cultural communities?

Lonnie Bunch III: “My notion was that, if the President of the United States wants to come and visit the museum, I get a chance to educate someone. So for me it was an interesting opportunity.”

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