By Mike Tucker
Office space is a terrible thing to waste and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) plans to make most of its residency atop the Howard/Shaw Metro station. After spending the last 17 years in Fairfax, VA, UNCF grounds itself in the Nation’s Capital.
The new national headquarters, located at 1805 7th Street, NW, was built in partnership with a developer and UNCF owns 50 percent of the building. There is 325,000 square feet of space that will include office space, retail stores and apartments, a quarter of which will be for low-income residents. It is a beautiful space overlooking the city. The Urban League will also occupy space in the building.
Frederick Douglass Patterson, then President of Tuskegee Institute, located in Alabama, founded the United Negro College Fund in 1944. Patterson came up with the idea of African Americans flying in World War II and got the war department to establish the Tuskegee Airman and had the foresight to know these pilots would need an education when they returned from the war.
Patterson created the United Negro College Fundraiser in 1943 and enlisted John D. Rockefeller, Jr. help to raise 750 thousand dollars. Since then, UNCF has raised over $3 billion for African American students.
The United Negro College Fund is one of the largest distributers of scholarship dollars in the country. Close to 4000 students in the Washington Metropolitan area receive funds from UNCF. This year the organization will award $100 million in scholarships to students attending one of UNCF’s 38 member Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as schools like George Washington University and Georgetown, according to Meta Williams, UNCF Regional Development Director.
The location of the headquarters above the Shaw/Howard metro holds significance, as Howard University is one of UNCF’s founding institutions. Conveniently located, the building will utilize the ground level store front, for the “College Knowledge Center” that will be a one stop shop interactive with 5000 square feet of space for students, parents, and counselors. The center will be available for District students, first and foremost, to to fill out applications for scholarships and immediately be accepted, as well as teach about financial aid, HBCUs and the college application process.
“In DC, the people who need us most can come knock on our door and we have all the access to the doors that we need to knock on to make a difference,” explained UNCF President and CEO, Michael Lomax, Ph.D.
One of the major issues the UNCF sees with the college process is the loan and grant system. While there are several loan programs out there, there should be one, and the grant process should be improved because Pell Grants work best for middle class students, Lomax explained.
According to Lomax, the system of grants and loans are flawed. Many are the first to go to college and don’t have experience navigating such a complex system.
They need information and access to the knowledge that UNCF has to offer.
“We are in Washington, DC and will take our issues to Congress and the White House,” said Lomax.
This past year 14,000 UNCF parents were denied funds due to a change in the credit application of the Parent Plus Loan without notification that made parents ineligible if they were in default with a payment of any kind.
College education is more important now than 70 years ago when UNCF started to help African Americans qualify for jobs.
“We are making the case for college education for African Americans and our work is more important than it ever has been,” says Dr. Lomax.
In order to provide scholarships to the students they serve, UNCF adheres to what the organization was founded on, fundraising. Every year the organization hosts a masked ball that really drives in large fundraising dollars. Masked Balls take place all around the country and were the brainchild of Andrew Young 29 years ago. Masked Balls are important events that enable UNCF to raise unrestricted funds and allow the organization to best serve student’s needs.
The first ball of this year took place in Atlanta, GA and was an evening of elegance that included dinner, a parade of masks and featured the performance of Jeffery Osborne. The Atlanta ball raised $1.2 million dollars.
The inaugural Washington, DC UNCF Masked Ball took place February 12, 2013 at the JW Marriott, downtown. The event was filled with dignitaries and celebrities. Lomax said, “Everyone that supports this inaugural UNCF Masked Ball will help fill that pipeline and investing in better futures for students, the community and the economy.”