Dr. Michael Lomax and Debra Lee with representatives of the Divine Nine fraternities and sororities.
Jill Marie Jones
Sean Patrick Thomas
All Photos by Monica Morgan Photography
As its theme, “Educating our future,” the UNCF came to the Southland to put on its annual gala event and to showcase some of its success stories – the students
Last weekend the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) put on its annual “An Evening of Stars” gala event which attracted an enviable lineup of stars and was attended by an A-list group of supporters. It was the 33rd edition of the event and it had a national sponsorship roster.
It is important to tell the UNCF’s story and how it advances the education of primarily Black students who otherwise would not be able to achieve their dream of a quality education. As a philanthropic organization, the UNCF raises college tuition money and general scholarship funds for 39 private historically black colleges and universities. Some previous years, it has supported approximately 65,000 students with approximately $113 million in grants and scholarships. UNCF also administers over 450 named scholarships.
Since 2004, Dr. Michael Lomax has been president and chief executive officer of UNCF. Before coming to UNCF, he was president of UNCF-member institution Dillard University in New Orleans and a literature professor at UNCF member institutions Morehouse and Spelman Colleges. So he was not in totally unfamiliar territory in accepting the top post at UNCF and in that capacity, Dr. Lomax is the driving force behind the annual “An Evening of Stars” event and the parade of stars that give of themselves to this worthy cause.
At this year’s gala, Dr. Lomax joined with BET’s Debra Lee in a combined effort to bring awareness by shining a spotlight on the students and raise scholarship money at the same time. The lineup of performances started off with Erykah Badu, Shawn Robinson, followed by a duet with Patti LaBelle and Ledisi who belted out “A New Attitude,” one of LaBelle’s signature hits. In between each performance, a UNCF student would be showcased: some through video and some in person, and then each celebrity urged the audience to donate through texting or via the internet.
The lineup continued with Estelle and Anthony Hamilton singing followed by former Lakers star, Kenny Smith who acted as a pitchman for UNCF, asking the audience to donate. Then Patti LaBelle returned to the stage for a solo number for which she received a standing ovation. Ledisi followed also with a solo performance.
Miguel did a solo number, followed by Marsha Ambrosius then Dr. Lomax spoke briefly praising the event main sponsor, Target via its representative, Laysha Ward who highlighted the company’s commitment to UNCF and quality education in general.
When Sheryl Underwood came on, she focused on all the presidents of the Black sororities and fraternities – the Divine Nine – who lined up across the stage, and as previously done, each speaker urged the audience to text and donate.
Jill Scott was next and she sang like only she could, belting out a unique number that the audience just loved. And then there was Jill Marie Jones (of “Girlfriends” fame), she introduced Musiq Soulchild.
Dr. Lomax came back on stage and emphasized, “Tonight there are many stars but the real stars are the students.”
When Tatyana Ali came on stage, she told the story of herself being a longtime supporter of UNCF and how the fund assisted her to go to Harvard University. She also highlighted, in conjunction with a video, one of UNCF’s star students, Barrington Irving, the youngest person to fly around the world, and who now has his own non-profit organization, Experienced Aviation, teaching young students the intricacies of aviation.
Other ‘success’ students mentioned earlier included Anthony Middlebrook, an Iraq veteran who continuously made the dean’s list and graduated summa cum laude, he was studying to be a lawyer; Dr. Angel Byrd (M.D & Ph.D.) she was studying how to combat diseases; Curtis Brown; Kevon Williams; Fatima Barbrick; Eric Marks, a Boeing intern; Delrisha White and Raviin Evans (they were brought up on stage); and Amber Thomas.
About the 2011 event, Dr. Lomax stated, “UNCF/AEOS this year tells the important story of UNCF’s work to help young people achieve their dreams of achieving a college education. Our goal is to help double the numbers of African-Americans who earn a college a degree. To do that, UNCF is awarding 10,000 scholarships a year and supporting 38 private historically black colleges. UNCF An Evening of Stars is a wonderful entertainment celebration of the work we do and the lives we change, but it is also a call to action to our community to donate and support our work so we can help more students realize their dream of a college degree.”
Though set up to address funding inequities in education resources for African Americans, the UNCF-administered scholarships are open to all ethnicities; the great majority of recipients are still African-American. It provides scholarships to students attending its member colleges as well as to those going elsewhere.
“An Evening of Stars” began as the “Lou Rawls Parade of Stars” telethon to benefit the UNCF. Past UNCF scholarships recipients have been Blacks across a wide spectrum in the fields of business, politics, medicine and the arts including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Alexis Herman, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, General Chappie James and Dr. David Satcher.