TMCF honoree Jesse L. Calloway, TMCF board member Larry Waters, TMCF president & CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., TMCF board chairman & CEO of Gallup Jim Clifton, and TMCF honoree John Esposito

(By Audrey J. Bernard, Lifestyles & Society Editor)

*The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) celebrated 24 years of education advocacy on Monday, October 24, at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers in New York City at a star-studded awards dinner gala marking over 2 decades of the advancement of TMCF’s core principle — Developing Minds… Delivering Dreams — as the organization grooms the nation’s future leaders of industry, government and education.

With over 1500 guests from the worlds of entertainment, business and global leadership in attendance, this prestigious annual gala – which was streamed live for the first time in its history – exceeded its financial expectations raising $1.6 million for its Leadership Institute and $1.5 million for the dinner, bringing the total to $3.1 million. The donations will aid the nearly 300,000 students attending TMCF’s 47 public HBCUs in their goal of achieving a higher education.

In 2012, TMCF will celebrate its milestone silver anniversary.  The upcoming occasion was commemorated with three donors committing $2.5 million in gifts to TMCF: Altria, Walmart, Inc. and MillerCoors.

Hosted by multi award-winning gospel icon Pastor Shirley Caesar, the gala was attended by an array of luminaries to honor the organization’s legacy, such as Blair Underwood, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lynn Whitfield, Carl Lewis, Rockmond “Soul Food” Dunbar, Lamman Rucker, Melyssa Ford, among others.

The TMCF 2011 honorees are visionaries who share a common thread of distinguished service and philanthropy.  These individuals were recognized for their singular achievements and indelible impact on the lives of our next generation of leaders and included:

International humanitarian of the year award: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon; breaking barriers award: Russell Simmons, chairman, Rush Communications; founders award: John Esposito, former president and CEO, Bacardi USA, Inc.; community leadership award: Rollin L. Ford, executive vice president and chief information officer, Walmart Store, Inc.; corporate leadership award: Jesse L. Calloway, vice president and general manager, Tobacco Processing & Manufacturing, Philip Morris, USA; and educational leadership award: Dr. Thelma B. Thompson, former president, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

TMCF founder Dr. N. Joyce Payne, TMCF honoree John Esposito, sports icon Carl Lewis

Another highlight of the esteemed evening’s festivities included a tribute to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  On behalf the TMCF Alumni Association and its president Hardy K. Dorsey, two distinguished HBCU alumni were honored: Tommy W. Dortch, Fort Valley State class of 1972; and Carl Turnipseed, Morgan State University, class of 1969.

This year’s sponsors included: The Charmer Sunbelt Group (chairman sponsor); Gallup and Miller Coors (president sponsor); and Altria, AT&T, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Costco, ING, Lowes, NBA Cares, Walmart, Wells Fargo and the U. S. Army Cadet Command (partner sponsors).

During the delightfully rewarding evening guests dined on Moroccan Marinated Shrimp with Vegetable Israeli Cous Cous and Fresh Parsley, Sweet Red and Yellow Pepper Coulis (appetizer); Pacific Halibut with Pineapple Sambal,1/2 Oven Roaster Parsley New Potatoes, Carrots and Haricot Vert, Rustic Dinner Rolls (main course).  Dessert was served during the Post dessert reception in the New York Ballroom.  All wines were provided by Moet Hennessy USA and The Hershey Company gifted each attendee with a KISS as a gift for attending the dinner.

The stellar program also boasted enjoyable performances by singer/songwriter and Grey Goose Rising Icon Marsha Ambrosius, UN Ambassador Maya Azucena, and Everybody Hates Chris star, actress and singer Tichina Arnold.

“Our 24th Anniversary Dinner was a tremendous success, as TMCF generated an impressive amount in support of our vital purpose,” remarked Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of TMCF.  “We’re thrilled with the outpouring of donations from individuals and sponsors alike, whose support fuels our ongoing mission to ensure underrepresented scholars have access to a quality education and opportunities.  As we prepare for our silver anniversary, armed with renewed purpose and determination, TMCF remains committed to elevating our talented HBCU achievers to serve as the nation’s future leaders of industry, government and education.”

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), named for the U.S. Supreme Court’s first African-American justice, was established in 1987. TMCF supports and represents nearly 300,000 students attending our 47 member schools, which include public Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). TMCF’s work is critical to guaranteeing our country a robust and diverse pipeline of talented workers and future leaders.

TMCF achieves its vision of Changing the World … One Leader at a Time by focusing on: scholarships; capacity building and programmatic support; and public policy and advocacy. TMCF is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization and has a “Four Star” rating by Charity Navigator.  (Photos by Ronnie Wright)

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