UNCF supporters and friends gathered in New York recently for the organization’s annual “A Mind Is” gala in celebration of “Game Changers” and to raise funds for the UNCF’s Campaign for Emergency Student Aid (CESA). Hosted by actor and comedian Bill Bellamy, UNCF President and CEO Dr. Michael Lomax and Gala Chair Tamara L. Harris welcomed 1500 guests in the city’s Marriot Time Square Hotel for an evening of dinner, dancing and philanthropy. It wouldn’t have been a UNCF evening without soulful music. Grammy-nominated vocalist Ledisi treated guest to her uplifting tune “It’s Alright” in between jazzy scats and smiles.

Tuskegee University’s Golden Voices Choir performed the National Anthem and an operatic rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” In a remarkable tribute to Shirley Chisholm’s legacy —including scenes from the Shola Lynch-directed documentary Shirley Chisholm: Unbossed and Unbrought—Dr. Lomax presented the very first UNCF Shirley Chisholm Community Service Award for Innovation in Education to Teach for America corps members who attended UNCF institutions. Lomax said, “They are gifted, driven, and they are committed to succeeding where the education system has failed.”

Two-time Superbowl champ, Giant’s Defensive End Justin Tuck was also honored receiving the UNCF President’s Award. Tuck gave a stirring acceptance speech yielding a standing ovation from the room. He shared, “It doesn’t matter if you are a millionaire or a celebrity. You can make a difference. Pave the way for the kids.” UNCF Gala Chair Tamara L. Harris egoed Tuck’s sentiments encouraging guests to be pavers. “Speak to everyone in your world about this important cause to change the game for students who need it the most.”

At the close of the evening Harris announced the charitable offerings of Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation coupled with donations by ExxonMobil helped the UNCF exceed its fundraising goal from the previous year raising a total sum of $3.7 million dollars. Funds earmarked for the UNCF’s Campaign for Emergency Student Aid (CESA) will provide emergency educational assistance to college juniors and seniors affected by the country’s ailing economy. —Geneva S. Thomas

To help a UNCF student stay in school, please visit www.uncf.org and click on the Campaign for Emergency Student Aid icon to make a donation.