By Kenya King, Special to the NNPA from the Atlanta Daily World –
It’s an emergency, but there is no need to dial 911 – call the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). For dozens of rising and graduating seniors at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the idea of not matriculating in the final coursework for their academic degree brings a wave of unnerving emotions and uncertainty about their future.
Now those trepidations are being diminished through the UNCF’s Campaign for Emergency Student Aid (CESA). CESA funds are special monies set aside for emergency student financial aid above and beyond the general scholarship resources that go to the UNCF. At the UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball held on Dec. 17 at Atlanta Marriott Marquis, the UNCF raised thousands of dollars targeted toward meeting the needs of students requiring urgent financial assistance in their final semesters of study.
“Every year the Mayor’s Masked Ball brings together Atlanta leaders who believe in the power of education to help the next generation of doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, business executives and entrepreneurs get the education they need to compete in a global economy,” said Michael Lomax, UNCF president and CEO.
Overall the Mayor’s Masked Ball raised $1.2 million that will benefit Atlanta University Schools, including Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse and the Interdenominational Theological Center. Out of the $1.2 million, $100,000 will go toward the emergency fund. Macy’s and UPS both contributed $50,000 to CESA.
The UNCF has set to raise $5 million for the CESA program, which launched in 2009. Other donors to the UNCF general scholarship fund were Anheuser-Busch Inc., $75,000; Coca-Cola, $50,000; and Delta Air Lines, $50,000.
Bill Hawthorne, Macy’s chief diversity officer, said that Macy’s has supported the UNCF for nearly 10 years, and that giving back is part of Macy’s fundamental values and responsibilities as a successful corporation. The scholarship funds Macy’s contributed will go to the emergency fund for Clark Atlanta, Morehouse and Spelman students.
“We had the research conducted … with the three schools and determined that the economy was having a harmful effect on the ability of a number of the students who are juniors and seniors who don’t have the funds necessary to pay the tuition in order to complete their degree. We got a ballpark of approximately what the typical student needs in order to get through that last couple of two or three [semesters] of schooling, and we concluded that our $50,000 contribution [would go] to a scholarship fund specifically for that purpose,” said Hawthorne.
“We generally give back to a whole array of educational initiatives. In the course of that giving though, we want to make sure that we are specifically supporting those institutions that were devoted to the Black or African American or the minority, or underserved or lower- income community. The UNCF is one such organization,” said Hawthorne.
Once again, this year’s Mayor’s Masked Ball proved to be Atlanta’s premiere holiday fundraising gala with participation among Atlanta’s most notable civic leaders and local celebrities. R&B crooner-superstar Keith Sweat entertained the 1,200 guests who attended, as well as newcomer and “America’s Got Talent” finalist, Xavier D. Lewis, who sang “Give Back” in a special musical tribute. Xavier, better known as XL and the “antidote for R&B,” wrote the heartfelt song, which is also the official theme song for the National Give Back for Kids Campaign of Washington, D.C.
When UNCF Executive Vice President Maurice Jenkins heard the song, he wanted to include it in the program, according to XL’s manager Reginald Bernard. The song was a fitting prelude to the UNCF’s tribute the Mayor’s Masked Ball’s co-founder and wife of the legendary Hank Aaron, Billye Suber Aaron, who is continuing to give back with a scholarship fund in her name.
To raise funds for her new scholarship, Aaron promoted a “No Birthday Party” celebration. The invitation read, “Cancel your luxurious suite at the Ritz, you’re invited to a party that requires no glitz…and write a big check instead for my 75th birthday celebration!”
Mrs. Aaron’s 75th birthday was October 16, 2011, and thus far, she’s raised more than $300,000 to the new Billye Suber Aaron UNCF Legacy Scholarship fund. To expand further, she has set a new goal of raising $500,000 for the fund.
“I decided to contribute to the United Negro College Fund the money that would have been spent on a big birthday bash,” said Aaron. “Given the state of the economy and the impact it is having on so many of the students UNCF serves, I wanted to do something special this year to help these young men and women.”
The UNCF provides scholarships that support more than 60,000 students at more than 900 schools throughout the United States.
“Students at our Atlanta UNCF member colleges and universities, and Atlanta students attending other UNCF institutions, look to UNCF for help getting the education they need and deserve,” said Maurice E. Jenkins Jr., UNCF executive vice president.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also credits attending an HBCU for helping him become the city’s mayor. “I strongly believe HBCUs are vital in preparing the next generation of African-American business owners, attorneys, doctors, artists and civic leaders. I am a proud Howard University alumnus, and I believe I am the 59th mayor of Atlanta in large part because of my experiences there as both an undergraduate and law school student,” said Reed.