UNCF President Michael L. Lomax (far right) presented top honors to Merck & Co. Scientist Donnie Eddins, Benny Andrews Foundation head Nene Humphrey, JPMorgan Chase executive Thelma Ferguson and Johnson Publishing CEO Linda Johnson during UNCF's 66th Anniversary Dinner

*Over 1,300 festively dressed guests attended the 66th anniversary dinner of The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) at New York’s Sheraton Hotel and Tower.  Guests came from all over the country to attend the event and celebrate the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization.

Audrey J. Bernard

Each year UNCF honors supporters who have helped UNCF to get to where they are today and continue to invest in UNCF’s future.  This year’s exemplary honorees included JPMorgan Chase; Johnson Publishing Company and its founders, the late John and Eunice Johnson; The Benny Andrews Foundation; and Dr. Donnie Eddins.

UNCF’s president’s award was presented to JPMorgan Chase, for supporting $1.25 million in emergency scholarships for graduating seniors at UNCF member colleges through the organization’s Campaign for Emergency Student Aid (CESA).

JPMorgan Chase’s support of CESA brings the campaign to within $750,000 of its $5 million goal.  CESA was launched at last year’s UNCF Anniversary Dinner to help recession-impacted seniors at UNCF colleges stay in school and graduate.

JPMorgan Chase senior vice president of commercial banking, Thelma Ferguson, fired up the beautiful black tie crowd by challenging UNCF to raise an additional $750,000 to meet its $5 million goal and help all the seniors that need financial assistance to graduate and begin their careers.

Miss National UNCF Tiffany Donaldson, a sophomore majoring in journalism at Stillman College, one of UNCF’s 39 member institutions, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, poses with UNCF President Michael L. Lomas and fellow student

Michael L. Lomax, UNCF president and CEO accepted the challenge on behalf of UNCF urging individuals, corporations and foundations to lend their support to meet this challenge head on to help thousands of students to graduate this spring.

“JPMorgan Chase’s commitment is a challenge to all who understand the importance of an education and the doors it can open,” he said.  “They have set an example and we all need to follow their lead and help these students graduate and get the education they need and that our nation needs them to have.”

A UNCF survey revealed that thousands of member-college students, including more than 2,000 graduating seniors, were carrying unpaid balances for tuition, text books, and room and board as a result of family layoffs and pay cuts and the disappearance of many commercial student loan programs as part of the credit crunch.

This year’s other exemplary honorees included Johnson Publishing Company and its founders, the late John and Eunice Johnson; the late Benny Andrews, founder, The Benny Andrews Foundation; and Dr. Donnie Eddins for their longtime support of UNCF and higher education.

UNCF and HSBCU College Presidents

The late John H. Johnson and Eunice W. Johnson, co-founders of Johnson Publishing Company, Inc., founded 68 years ago were presented with UNCF’s lifetime achievement award for their accomplishments and commitment to minority education and philanthropy.

Johnson Publishing CEO Linda Johnson Rice received UNCF's Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of her late parents John H. Johnson and Eunice N. Johnson from UNCF President Michael L. Lomax

Mr. Johnson, president of Johnson Publishing Company, which published Ebony and Jet magazines, served as a member of the UNCF board of directors for more than 30 years.

Mrs. Johnson received her bachelor’s degree from UNCF member school, Talladega College.  She created the Ebony Fashion Fair and raised more than $50 million for charities that included UNCF.  She also donated $1 million to UNCF to endow the Eunice Walker Johnson Endowed Scholarship.

Their daughter Linda Johnson Rice, chair and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, accepted the award on her parents behalf.  “It is an honor to accept this award on behalf of my parents and Johnson Publishing Company,” said Johnson Rice, who has served on the UNCF board for five years.

“My parents devoted their lives to making sure others could have the same start as they did.  It is important for all of us to continue to support UNCF in the critical work that they do to ensure the next generation of leaders is prepared to help our nation compete globally,” Johnson Rice concluded.

A second president’s award was presented to the Benny Andrews Foundation.  The award recognizes the bequest of Andrews, a well-known artist whose work hangs in the Museum of Modern Art and other museums, of a large collection of his paintings to UNCF for exhibition at its member schools and other cultural and civic institutions.

The Benny Andrews Foundation recently selected UNCF to receive 128 pieces of his art collection and to assist with the exhibition of his art in the collections of UNCF’s HBCUs, African American museums and other places where people come together to learn about culture and American life.

JPMorgan Chase senior vice president of commercial banking, Thelma Ferguson, supports UNCF's Campaign for Emergency Student Aid with $1.25 million and challenges UNCF supporters to add $750,000. UNCF President Michael L. Lomax presented the coveted President’s Award to JPMorgan Chase

Mr. Andrews’ widow and president of the Benny Andrews Foundation, artist Nene Humphrey, accepted the award on behalf of the foundation.  “The partnership that the Benny Andrews Foundation has with UNCF provides a meaningful way to honor the legacy of Benny Andrews, whose life demonstrated the importance of education, and who in turn devoted his career to representing, teaching, and championing African American communities,” said Ms. Humphrey.

Dr. Donnie Eddins, a scientist at Merck & Co. and a graduate of UNCF member institution Talladega College, was honored with UNCF’s “Ones to Watch” award, which recognizes accomplished young graduates of UNCF member colleges and universities.

G. Keith Alexander returned as the event’s esteemed announcer and host.  UNCF also acknowledged the Gates Millennium Scholars Program which is the country’s largest and most successful scholarship program.  The signature dessert reception brought another UNCF event to a climactic end and a glorious time was had by all!  (Photos by Earl Gibson III)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.