Bridging Generations

United Negro College Fund aims for millennials, attracts all

(Photos Left) Scenes from UNCF fundraiser on the East Falls Bridge.  Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

Generations ago, the phrase, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” was familiar to the American public. It was the well-known slogan for the United Negro College Fund, which for 70 years has raised scholarship money for African-American college students and for the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

For 27 of those years, beginning in 1980, R&B crooner Lou Rawls hosted a UNCF “Parade of Stars” telethon that for many years was must-see viewing in black households across the country. KYW3 TV’s Trudy Haynes, the station’s first Black news reporter, was so active in UNCF fundraising that KYW-3 created a scholarship in her name.

UNCF has certainly continued raising funds for college attendance, each year awarding more than $100 million in scholarships to more than 10,000 students.

However, in recent years, its traditional high visibility has waned among its beneficiaries. Today’s younger generations can’t easily recall the UNCF slogan, and they are virtually unaware of the fundraising galas which have become staples for the group.

Adressing the need to capture the attention of the millennial generation, UNCF Philadelphia took a more youth-oriented approach to fundraising this fall. It launched its first ever “ScholarSips” event and held it on the East Falls Bridge.

Overlooking the Schuykill River on a cool, brisk Saturday, attendees enjoyed gourmet Philly food trucks, an entertainment stage, deejays, dancing, a social media photo booth and red-carpet photo ops.

Greg Lyles, area development director for UNCF Philadelphia, said, “We wanted to capture a crowd that wanted to pay $30 for a ticket — because we do other special events that cost $250 a ticket. So, how do we capture the individual, the young crowd, millennials, and get them to do something for UNCF?”

ScholarSips successfully attracted not only the millennials it sought, it also drew UNCF’s traditional crowd – elected officials, donors, and HBCU graduates.

Lyles noted that while UNCF provides support for area institutions and 37 of the nation’s recognized HBCUs, it also supports African-American college students wherever they may be.

One student, Karim, shared his plight from a North Philadelphia high school to Morehouse College in Atlanta, where he was challenged by the need to be more disciplined and to cover college debt.

“I needed someone to help me,” he shared. He found Carolyn Starling-Love, an administrative assistant at UNCF Philadelphia. 

“It was like she was waiting for me to call her,” Karim said. “She was very understanding and very patient with me.”

He returned home and enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia, but proudly announced, “I paid off my balance at Morehouse.”

Said Lyles of the event, “The crowd was good. The food was good. The music was outstanding. We did exceptionally well.” Next time, he vowed just to “make it bigger and better.”


Bridging Generations
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.


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