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UNCF Birmingham celebrates 75 years with Mayor’s Masked Ball on March 16

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On Saturday, March 16, UNCF Birmingham will host its annual Mayor's Masked Ball at the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom on Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North beginning at 7 p.m. (Provided Photo)
Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times

The United Negro College Fund celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and the mission is the same today as it’s been from day one.

“The main mission is funding the mission in raising money,” said Casi Ferguson, UNCF Birmingham area development director. “That started 75 years ago, we [were] trying to create additional funding for our member institution and that focus, that determination, that desire, that need is what we’re still doing today.”

On Saturday March 16, UNCF Birmingham will host its annual Mayor’s Masked Ball at the Sheraton Hotel Ballroom on Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North beginning at 7 p.m.

The UNCF is made up of 37 member institutions including five in Alabama: Miles College (Birmingham), Oakwood University (Huntsville), Stillman College (Tuscaloosa), Talladega College (Talladega) and Tuskegee University (Tuskegee).

Gloria Dennard, a graduate of Stillman College, one of UNCF’s member institutions, and Cherise Ball Wilson of Ball HealthCare Services Inc., a healthcare and rehabilitation center, are among the honorees.

“When they started this (the UNCF) in 1944 it was to fund the mission, to raise money for these schools. So, the mission is the same, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, it’s a wonderful thing to invest in and the mission is still strong,” said Ferguson. “The irony of it is we needed money then and we still need money…I’m trying to create awareness for it…It’s a big thing that we’re 75 years old but the reason we’re 75 years old is to say we must be doing something right because we’re still funding the mission.”

The UNCF strives to create a pipeline of underrepresented students who become highly qualified college graduates. In April of 1944 UNCF was created to help people of color attend college as well as help them get the funds to attend college.

“Because times changed, we help anybody, it doesn’t matter your background, your race, whatever, we help everybody,” said Deon Guin, UNCF Birmingham administrative assistant. “A mind is terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in…we get an opportunity to send deserving [students] to and through college. And so, I think it’s a great opportunity for anybody and it does my heart good to be able to know that I had a helping hand on helping someone with a lifelong dream of theirs.”

During the Mayor’s Masked Ball, UNCF will induct members into the “A Mind is…” organization which is “a spin off from a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” Ferguson said.

“People actually give $1,000 of their own money, it has nothing to do with ticket sales or anything,” said Ferguson. “They just donate that yearly and they’re a part of a unique club that continues to host things and drive things through the year for us.”

The UNCF plans to continue its celebration throughout the year with a number of different events including a ladies’ luncheon and a golf tournament. The chairs of the events will be announced during the ball, but no dates are set yet.

Having the smaller events gives them an opportunity to bring awareness to what UNCF does, said Guin. “We just want to be able to bring more awareness to an organization of great cause,” she said.

Reaching 75 years is a great accomplishment for the historically African-American private nonprofit organization, Guin said.

“We are basically the first to do it and to continue on and to still be thriving after 75 years,” Guin said.

Ferguson said reaching 75 years just means that UNCF is “stronger and wiser and . . . each and every one of our schools have a different point in history, and they all have a magnificent story to tell…from Tuskegee airmen to the library at Talladega that’s now being restored . . . to bring the murals back, everybody has a phenomenal story in history that we’ve written.”

The famed Amistad murals, painted by Hale Woodruff in 1938, document the enslaved Africans’ resilience and struggle for liberation and survival in the New World.