The United Negro College Fund has been an educational lookout bank for minority students since 1944. Its monetary pipeline has allowed thousands of African Americans and other underrepresented students to have an opportunity to attend institutions of higher learning all over the nation.
The numbers speak for themselves. The charitable organization is on the verge of hitting the $5 billion mark in actual fundraising ($4.8 billion) efforts and has saw the fruits of its labor heeded with 445,000 students (and counting) earning college degrees as a result of its philanthropic campaigns. UNCF got a little closer to that mark when it hosted its 7th Annual UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball event at the J.W. Marriott at LA Live Hotel in February.
The UNCF Los Angeles chapter put on the annual event with some heavy entertainment and luminaries coming to bat for education. Entertainer Dawnn Lewis, crooner Major, actors Malinda Williams (Soul Food), Aldis Hodge (Underground, Straight Outta Compton), as well as local dignitary Herb Wesson (Los Angeles City Council member) were among those attending the gala.
But the real star of the show is the one person charged with making this event a success is someone who works behind the scenes, pulling on as many coattails as possible to get financial contributions from willing donors. Jennifer Childress, area development director for UNCF Los Angeles, is pretty good at doing this sort of thing.
Thanks to her previous stints working as senior director of development at Jumpstart Southern California, managing director of development with Communities Schools Los Angeles, and running things as executive director at Peer Health Exchange, Childress has impressed in her leadership roles wherever she’s been called to lead. It’s no different at UNCF for Childress, where she handles fundraising efforts, among other tasks, for the organization.
The Pepperdine University alum shared her thoughts with News4usonline Editor Dennis J. Freeman about the success of the 7th Annual UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball, what the organization’s ongoing fundraising efforts mean to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and what are some of the challenges that UNCF face in its continued efforts to give minority students a chance at higher education.
News4usonline: How would you describe the success of this year’s United Negro College Fund (UNCF) event?
Jennifer Childress: “I would describe the event as a success for our HBCUs, and our scholars. It was a wonderful night where our city’s leaders from across industries demonstrated their commitment to education, our students, and UNCF’s mission.”
N40: Why is this event a big deal in terms of raising money for UNCF?
JC: “Events like these are important not only because of the funds they raise— incredibly important funds— but also because they give our community the opportunity to celebrate Black excellence, scholarship, and the incredible legacy of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).”
N40: How much money was raised from this year’s event?
JC: “This event raised about a half million ($500,000) this year.”
N40: How does UNCF continue its push to attract more donors to contribute to its mission to educate students attending historically black colleges and universities?
JC: “HBCUs have educated our nation’s foremost thinkers, leaders, and doers, and we have the opportunity to remind people of that fact. Out here in California, we sometimes forget that 20% of all bachelor’s degrees held by African Americans were earned at an HBCU. As people begin to understand the high value and relevance of an HBCU education, they want to give.”
N40: Are organizations like UNCF still relevant today to the mission of historically black colleges and universities?
JC: “Organizations like UNCF and other similar organizations are relevant and help to strengthen HBCUs by providing the needed scholarships that make HBCUs a financially viable option for as many students as possible.”
N40: What is the biggest challenge today for UNCF and its mission?
JC: “One of the challenges we face is that many think HBCUs (and sometimes organizations like ours) aren’t needed any longer. When in fact they are incredibly important. HBCUs provide a unique experience for African American students, freeing them up to participate fully and unreservedly in their educational experience, unencumbered by “racial responsibilities,” like providing the “the black perspective” and representing the race to the school community.”
N40: Who are the biggest supporters and funders of UNCF? What does that mean to the organization?
JC: “We are fortunate to have many longstanding supporters both local and national, big and small. I wouldn’t want to try to name them all! The list would be too long! But the Ball has some wonderful lead supporters: Delta Air Lines, with whom we partner on a national level as well, UPS, which has been a supporter for many years, and Xerox. Their consistent support makes our work possible.”