With the rising cost of higher education and concerns over mounting student loans, families face difficult decisions when choosing a college for their children.
But thanks to the continued efforts of organizations like the District-based Thurgood Marshall College Fund [TMCF], young scholars who matriculate at the nation’s 47 public Historically Black Colleges and Universities [HBCUs] can get the financial assistance they need – clearing the way for them to earn a college degree.
The TMCF hosted its 28th Annual Awards Gala on Monday, Nov. 21 at the Washington Hilton in Northwest – a black-tie event that has become one of the District’s largest annual fundraising dinners.
Dr. N. Joyce Payne, who transformed her vision into one of America’s top public Black college programs, founding it in 1987, said she realized that while making calls on behalf of the United Negro College Fund, a void still remained that had to be filled.
“My original goal was to provide scholarships for academically-exemplary students. But it soon became evident that to engage Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and garner his support, we needed a broader perspective. We needed to expand our scope beyond scholarships and also provide leadership opportunities that would build greater capacities at our [Black] universities while connecting them to world class institutions,” said Payne, a native Washingtonian now living in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina who still works for the betterment of HBCU students, faculty and institutions at the energetic age of 75.
After many fruitful years of service, Payne decided to move on and let go of the reigns but not before finding someone with strong leadership skills to replace her. She found that individual in the person of Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. who has served as TMCF’s president and CEO for the last 6 ½ years.
“I was able to get out of the way and let him demonstrate his power,” she said. “I can’t think of any organization that has the kind of energy, leadership and unwavering commitment to the 47 public colleges and universities that we support – Johnny had just what we needed.”
Taylor, 42, who once served on the Fund’s board of directors and has a proven business acumen, said it shouldn’t matter whether one attended an HBCU or not – “they belong to us all and we must make sure they survive and thrive.”
“In America there are only three institutions that are authentically ours: the Black church, Black Greeks (fraternities and sororities) and Black colleges,” he said. “We must make sure they’re here for future generations.”
“HBCUs are important for two reasons: despite representing only three percent of all higher education institutions, they out-produce other colleges in several critical areas and they serve as beacons of hope for youth from rural areas and blighted communities,” Taylor said. “Grads from HBCUs represent 20 percent of the country’s Black engineers and 50 percent of our Black teachers. Education remains the great equalizer. Eliminate the HBCUs and just imagine how many more Black youth would be incarcerated or having children out of wedlock.”
Under Taylor’s direction, the TMCF has adopted a “maniacal focus on getting kids into and through college.”
“If HBCU students are going to be competitive and able to secure the kinds of high-paying jobs that are now available, which is one of our priorities for them, they have to be college-educated, prepared to utilize today’s technology and be comfortable competing in a job market that has become global in scope,” he said.
Gala honorees included: Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter and Square; Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture; Shelley Broderick, dean, University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law; and Benjamin F. Wilson, managing principal, Bevridge & Diamond, P.C.
Special guests included; V. Bozeman, Cierra Jackson, Tobias Truvillion and Traci Braxton.
And to host the Awards Dinner, the Fund called on the talents of Wendy Williams, media mogul, entrepreneur and author, best known for her nationally-syndicated and Emmy-nominated talk show that reaches 2.4 million daily viewers.
She weighed in on the significance of HBCUs.
“They’re still relevant and important as is all education today, particularly if our young men and women really want to meet their professional goals,” she said. “The Fund has always held a special place in my heart with all of the positive work they do, especially after I received the Thurgood Marshall Prestige Award in 2008. I advise youth to continue to learn, to earn their high school diploma and to go on to college – to get as much education as they can. It’s essential for success in the world in which we now live,” Williams added.