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Honoree Justin Tuck, Gala Chair Tamara L. Robinson, UNCF President & CEO Dr. Michael L. Lomax (Photo by Patrick McMullan)

*Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president & CEO, United Negro College Fund (UNCF), welcomed a stellar crowd of 1500, including Fortune 100 corporations and executives, prominent education advocates, athletes, entertainers and notables from the world of finance, law and politics at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square for the ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste’ black tie gala on Thursday, March 1, 2012.  The radiant evening began as guests entered the hotel and were greeted by a jumbo-tron space, donated by American Eagle, Reuters and NASDAQ, that lit up Times Square with UNCF colors, advertisement, logo and motto for the evening.

The glow continued as guests entered the cavernous ballroom beautifully decorated in UNCF colors of orange, purple and blues, setting the mood for a glorious gala filled with joyfulness and inspiration.  Themed “game changers” in education, ‘A Mind Is’ gala raised $3.7 million to support scholarships and programs that reach more than 60,000 students at over 900 colleges and universities across the country each year.

Actor and comedian Bill Bellamy emceed the elegant evening that kicked off with stirring renditions of The Star Spangled Banner and Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing anthems by the illustrious Tuskegee University Golden Voices Concert Choir, founded in 1884 by Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee’s first president.

Following an invocation by Rev. Dr. LaKeesha Walrond, executive pastor, First Corinthian Baptist church; a delectable dinner was served.  Guests dined on roasted pumpkin soup with Spanish sherry and herb salad with blistered tomatoes, radishes, toasted pine nuts, champagne vinaigrette (duet appetizer); and seared halibut with leek fondue, wild mushroom risotto, asparagus, white wine caper sauce (entrée).  Throughout the evening, a collection of fine wine was provided by Atria Group on behalf of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, an Altria company.  The evening’s collection of excellent wines from Columbia Crest Grand Estates Amitage was sponsored by Palm Bay.  A dancing and dessert reception topped off an exquisite evening of giving and fellowship.

During the course of the event, the always favorite presentation of presidents of UNCF-member institutions was made by “the voice” G. Keith Alexander to the roar of the crowd.  Another crowd pleaser was a special live performance by celebrated Grammy Award-nominated singer Ledisi who sang “It’s a Wonderful World,” followed by her motivational song “All Right” from her first Grammy-nominated album, Lost and Found.

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UNCF Gala Chair Tamara L. Robinson, president, Tamara Harris Foundation and UNCF board member (Photo by Patrick McMullan)

Lowe’s Charitable & Educational Foundation and ExxonMobil helped UNCF exceed its fundraising goal raising $1 million more than last year’s inaugural “A Mind Is” Gala.  The money earmarked for CESA, will provide emergency education assistance to college juniors and seniors impacted by the changing economy and challenges they face with college expenses that must be paid before they can graduate.

ExxonMobil, who started contributing to CESA three years ago with an initial contribution of $1 million dollars, announced a $500,000 matching grant.  LCEF announced an additional $1 million contribution to CESA, which brings their giving total to $1.75 million.

The award portion of the program featured a tender tribute honoring the legacy of one of America’s most significant game changes, The Honorable Shirley Chisholm.  Hon. Chisholm, a member of Congress from New York City, author, educator, and political trailblazer, wanted to be remembered as, “a woman who lived in the twentieth century and who dared to be a catalyst for change.”  Dr. Lomax presented the inaugural UNCF Shirley Chisholm Community Service Award for Innovation in Education to students he called, “the civil rights education activists of our generation.  They are gifted, they are driven, and they are committed to succeeding where the education system has failed.”

The Shirley Chisholm Award was presented to alumni of UNCF member institutions who have taught in public schools through Teach For America.  Teach For America Corps Members were joined on stage by Wendy Kopp, CEO and founder of Teach For America who also applauded their commitment to ensuring students in disadvantaged areas have a chance at receiving the education they need to prepare them for the future.

Two-time Super Bowl Defensive End Justin Tuck and his wife Lauran were the recipients of the UNCF president’s award for the literacy work they do through their Tuck’s R.U.S.H (Read, Understand, Succeed, Hope) for Literacy Foundation.  “If you watched the Super Bowl this year, you saw that Justin had two key sacks that turned that game around,” said Dr. Lomax.  “This is a man who changes games! But what you may not know is that behind each one of those sacks is his Foundation’s matching funds initiative.  To date, and with accompanying donations, R.U.S.H for Literacy has raised over $370,000 through this effort!  This is the kind of philanthropist that turns accomplishment and charity into active solutions.”

Tuck accepted the award and praised his wife, who was unable to attend because she is in graduate school.  He said the work they do with R.U.S.H is fun for them and urged the crowd to give back in whatever way they can.  “It doesn’t matter if you are a millionaire or a celebrity,” he said.  “You can always make a difference.  Be pavers. Pave the way for kids.”

Tamara L. Harris, president, Tamara Harris Foundation, gala chair and UNCF board member, urged the crowd to be game-changers. “Speak to everyone in your world about this important cause to change the game for the students who need it the most.”  To that end, Dr. Lomax spoke about the excellence of UNCF alumni who, “starting their careers as teachers have been true game-changers.”

“Their work as teachers in low-income communities around the country, and their commitment to advocate for education reform after they complete their years with TFA, reflect UNCF’s determination to work through our scholarship programs and with partners like Teach For America, to help communities take ownership of the education their children receive, and make sure that every child gets the education they need to prepare them for college success,” Dr. Lomax added.

Luminaries in attendance included Essence magazine editor-in-chief Constance C.R. White, Reverend Al Sharpton, socialite Bevy Smith, Extra! correspondent AJ Calloway, editor and journalist Susan Taylor, CEO and president of Foot Locker Ken Hicks, CEO & founder of Teach For America Wendy Kopp, executive director of the Shawn Carter Foundation Dania Diaz, author Demetria Lucas and many more.

Since then, CESA scholarships have saved the college careers of more than 8,000 students who could stay in college so they can graduate.  CESA has attracted over $14 million from more than 6,000 donors. Individuals, corporations and foundations can help thousands of students finish the spring semester by contributing to the Campaign for Emergency Student Aid.  To donate to CESA and for continuous updates and news, visit www.UNCF.org. Also, follow UNCF on Twitter at @UNCF.

UNCF was founded in 1944 and has raised more than three billion dollars and helped more than 400,000 students secure college degrees.  Each year, in addition to supporting its member institutions and their students, UNCF awards 10,000 scholarships and advocates for the rights of low income and minority students to receive a good education from preschool through college graduation. To help a UNCF student stay in school, visit www.uncf.org and click on the Campaign for Emergency Student Aid icon to make a donation.


About UNCF

UNCF — the United Negro College Fund — is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization.  To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, supports and strengthens its 38 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness.

UNCF institutions and other historically Black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding 21 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees.  UNCF administers more than 400 programs, including scholarship, internship and fellowship, mentoring, summer enrichment, and curriculum and faculty development programs.

Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at over 900 colleges and universities across the country.  Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized motto,


About Bill Bellamy

Staying busy is not a problem for Bill Bellamy, whose flourishing career encompasses the worlds of feature film, television, comedy and more.  His career is on the rise, yet his feet remain firmly planted on the ground.  Bellamy was seen last summer in the urban comedy “The Lottery Ticket” with Bow Wow, Ice Cube and Brandon T. Jackson.  He appeared on several episodes this season of Tyler Perry’s TBS series “Meet The Browns” and guest-starred on ABC’s “Castle” and USA’s “Royal Pains.”

Over the last decade Bellamy has been a staple in the world of comedy, performing hundreds of shows.

Bellamy entered comedy as a lark.  While at Rutgers University, he entered a male beauty pageant and won after he showcased a hidden talent – comedy.  After winning numerous amateur competitions, Bellamy moved on to work his act in some of the top comedy clubs across the country.  He made his national   television debut as a featured guest on “Showtime at the Apollo.”

His success with the “toughest audience in the world” caught the attention of comedy producers Bernie Brillstein and Russell Simmons.  The two immediately signed him on as a guest star of HBO’s “Def Comedy Jam.”  Soon after, Bellamy starred in his own Showtime comedy special “Booty Call,” which became one of the network’s top-rated specials.  The rest, as they say, is history.


About Lauran & Justin Tuck

Lauran & Justin Tuck founded Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy to encourage children to Read, Understand, Succeed and Hope.  Started in 2008, Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy has been committed to raising funds to donate books and other reading materials to support children in the New York City and Central Alabama communities. By supporting the communities that have supported them, the Tucks hope to encourage children to embrace literacy.

The couple have been lauded and honored for their various charitable endeavors and recently partnered with JP Morgan Chase to donate $275,000 to victims of the recent Alabama tornadoes.

The charity hosts an annual billiards tournament to raise funds ingeniously called “Tuck’s Celebrity Billiards.”  Past participants have included stars such as Spike Lee, John Legend, Buddy Valastro (The Cake Boss), Big Daddy Kane and Earl the Pearl Monroe.


About Ledisi

Ledisi Anibade Young (pronounced /ˈlɛdɨsiː/ born July 9, 1978) is an American recording artist, singer-songwriter, record producer, CEO and actress. Her first name means “to bring forth” or “to come here” in Yoruba.  Ledisi is known for her jazz influenced vocals.

In 2000, Ledisi released her first album, entitled Soulsinger: The Revival. Ledisi and her group toured in 2001, performing various shows.  In 2002, Ledisi released her second album, Feeling Orange but Sometimes Blue.  The album won her an award for “Outstanding Jazz Album” at the California Music Awards.

In 2007, Ledisi signed a major record deal with Verve Forecast and released her third album in August of that year, entitled Lost & Found, which sold almost 217,000 copies and earned her two Grammy nominations, including one for Best New Artist.  In 2008, Ledisi released her Christmas album, It’s Christmas.  In 2009, Ledisi released her fourth album Turn Me Loose, which earned her 2 Grammy nominations.

Ledisi just wrapped up her first headlining tour entitled “Pieces of Me,” which sold out many dates across the country   She reached the top 5 on the Urban AC Radio charts for her latest single “Stay Together,” the second single off Pieces of Me which eclipsed her previous album, reaching #8 on the Billboard charts, paving the way for sold out tour dates and Grammy nominations.


About Shirley Chisholm

In 1968, Shirley Chisholm ran for Congress from Brooklyn, winning that seat while running against James Farmer, a veteran of the 1960s Freedom Rides in the south making her the first Black woman elected on Congress.

The pioneer political woman hired only women for her staff.  She was known for taking positions against the Vietnam war. for minority and women’s issues, and for challenging the Congressional seniority system.  In 1971, Chisholm was a founding member of the National Women’s Political Caucus.

When Chisholm ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972 with the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed,” she knew that she could not win the nomination, but she nevertheless wanted to raise issues she felt were important.  She was the first Black and the first woman to run for president.

Chisholm served in Congress for seven terms, until 1982.  In 1984, she helped form the National Political Congress of Black Women (NPCBW).  She taught, as the Purington Professor at Mount Holyoke College, and spoke widely.  She moved to Florida in 1991.  She briefly served as ambassador to Jamaica during the Clinton administration.  Shirley Chisholm died in Florida in 2005 after a series of strokes.

In 2004, she said about herself, “I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first Black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.”

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

audrey j. bernard