Some 1400 big names & stars filled the seats at the first UNCF “A Mind Is” Gala. 2.8 million dollars was raised for the United Negro College Fund (better known as UNCF), with an additional $1 million that will go toward UNCF’s Campaign for Emergency Student Aid. It acts as a scholarship program to help recession-impacted seniors at UNCF member colleges graduate on schedule.
Of the many guests and performers that contributed to the UNCF celebration, which honored the 40th anniversary of its motto “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, were the legendary Roberta Flack, Grammy Award-winning producer and style genius Pharrell Williams, former 106 and Park host & Extra correspondent AJ Calloway, Johnson Publishing Co. and UNCF Board member Linda Johnson Rice, and Executive Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem Thelma Golden, just to name a few.
The high profile guests joined UNCF president and CEO Michael L. Lomax in paying tribute to the motto’s originators Vernon Jordan, who headed UNCF when the motto was created, Y&R, the advertising agency that created the first “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” campaign, and the Ad Council, which placed the UNCF spots and advertisements around the country. Y&R was represented by Hamish McLennan and Edward Ney while Peggy Conlon represented the Ad Council.
The “A mind is a terrible thing to waste,” ad campaign is one of the longest-running and most successful in history. 280,000 college graduates, $3.3 billion raised to provide scholarships to students at over 900 colleges and universities, and financial support for UNCF's 39 member HBCUs all were possible due to the campaign.
The evening featured a live musical tribute by Roberta Flack, who serenaded guests with hit songs including Killing Me Softly and First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Former President Bill Clinton lauded his longtime friend Vernon Jordan and applauded UNCF for its decades of work educating people of color.
Pharrell also paid homage to the foundation by crediting his drive to succeed to the guidance UNCF had in his life. “We owe it to them to do what we can, to help UNCF help these great young people. UNCF is on their side, making a commitment to the future and making a difference. Count me in.” he said. Anything beneficial to the African American community can count us in too. —Keenan Higgins