By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) celebrated 75 years of providing financial opportunities for young Black scholars attending college this week in Northwest, D.C.

The annual national “A Mind Is…” gala is a tribute organization’s signature slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Since 1944, UNCF along with corporate, political and scholastic sponsors has led the way in advocating for the education of Black students.

This year’s gala highlighted the UNCF’s yearlong theme: “Lighting the Way to Better Futures.”

United Negro College Fund (UNCF) commemorated 75 years of providing money for young Black scholars with their annual Nation “A Mind Is” gala under the yearlong theme, “Lighting the Way to Better Futures,” on March 7 at the Marriot Marquis in Northwest D.C. In this photo the UNCF Frederick D. Patterson Award is being presented to The Congressional Black Caucus. (Photo by Rob Roberts)

“UNCF was founded on April 25, 1944, and for 75 years, it has supported private HBCUs, hundreds of thousands of deserving students and advocated for minority higher education, ” the UNCF said in a press release about the gala. Since then, the organization reports having “made a difference for almost a half million students.”

The gala was an evening to celebrate the scholastic achievements of current students and alumni benefitting from UNCF scholarships, sponsors and leaders within the organization. This year’s gala specifically honored businessman and philanthropist Robert F. Smith, The Ray Charles Foundation and the Congressional Black Caucus.  In addition, UNCF celebrated the momentous occasion of funding Black students’ education for three-quarters of a century, with live performances, special addresses and a three-course dining experience.

Even with the fun nature of the evening, the purpose of the gala was to raise funds for the organization, which UNCF is doing yearlong in order to mark 75 years of continued support for Black students looking to pursue higher education.

Lois Peters, who lives in the Washington Metropolitan area and serves on the Board of Trustees for Oakwood University in Huntsville, Ala., told the AFRO why UNCF is so critical in the Black community.

“UNCF has been a group of people who have taken care of our kids.  A lot of our students would not be able to fund their education and go to a university were it not for UNCF.  They look out for our kids,” Peters told the AFRO.

She acknowledged the importance of UNCF’s 75th birthday, often referred to as a “diamond jubilee.”

“It is a thought that 75 years ago many could not walk in the halls and universities in their community. Because of UNCF, education has been made available for people who would not otherwise get it. It is phenomenal the amount of students, the amount of money, the billions of dollars,” she said.

Peters sees the UNCF as a “blessing.”

“It’s not only a blessing, because they’re blessing the kids. They’re blessing the keepers, the donors who have been blessed to be blessing so many young people.”

The Rev. Dr. George E. Holmes also saw the divinity in UNCF’s work and mission.

“I think this is just awesome, it’s God-driven,” Holmes told the AFRO.  “God saw fit that I was able to attend this wonderful transformation of an organization that has blessed persons from 1944 with the help of individuals who have come from all around the world- corporate leaders, faith leaders, business leaders- to say to our students who are matriculating and do not have another way out, that UNCF can be that way.  [UNCF] can be able to serve as a beacon light of hope in dark places, where money is not.”

Holmes also recognized how UNCF indirectly affects next generations by constantly sewing into young people.

“So many of our graduates at HBCUs have found a way to receive [UNCF] money and then themselves become a catalyst of change for generations still yet to come.  So this is just a transformative organization that has changed lives… and in my humble opinion, I think it’s the most signature organization that has raised said funds to assist persons of African American descent.”