August 26, 2019 / By Tyler Hughes
Over the last 75 years, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) has helped nearly half a million college students attain their degrees from a plethora of higher education institutions across the nation. UNCF celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier this month at its 8th Annual Hamptons Summer Benefit held at the Co-CEO of Riverdale/Archie Comics, Nancy Silberkleit’s private residence in East Hampton, NY where they raised a record-breaking $350,000 for historically black colleges & universities (HBCUs) and their students.
Attending this auspicious occasion from Taylor were CEO Tony Signore, Account Director Sade Ayodele, and myself, Intern Tyler Hughes. Taylor is a proud supporter of UNCF, HBCUs, and other educational institutions that help advance diversity of thought.
Central to the event, UNCF honored two champions of diversity and education with the “Keeper of the Flame” award: Sharlee Jeter and R. Donahue Peebles. UNCF-member institution Spelman College alumna Sharlee Jeter, president of the Turn 2 Foundation and vice president of strategy and development at Jeter Ventures, has been a longstanding partner of UNCF through the UNCF/Sharlee Jeter Scholarship, which awards a scholarship each year to a graduate of Turn 2’s Jeter’s Leaders program to attend a HBCU. In honor of UNCF’s 75 years, Jeter donated $100,000 to ensure there is more access to a game changing college education. The “Keeper of the Flame” award was presented to Jeter by her son, Jalen, and father, Dr. S. Charles Jeter, a 1971 graduate of Fisk University. Jeter’s story about overcoming the adversity she faced is empowering; check out her book, The Stuff, here.
Following Jeter was R. Donahue Peebles, founder, chairman and CEO of The Peebles Corporation. Peebles is a leader in assisting young students of color to advance in their education through philanthropy. Peebles founded The Peebles Corporation in 1983 and built the largest African American-owned real estate development and ownership company in the United States. His path to success was somewhat unconventional, given that he did not receive a college education. During his acceptance speech, Peebles credited his mother as his inspiration to go into real estate, since she built a real estate empire of her own. Outside of Peebles’ thriving corporate life, his philanthropic efforts put education at the forefront. In recent years, Peebles and his company built the CARE Elementary School in Miami. Today, Peebles is committed to mentoring young entrepreneurs grow and develop their own businesses.
The night also featured a live performance from Ailey II dancer Kyle H. Martin, with a wonderful performance of “I Wanna Be Ready” from Alvin Ailey’s Revelationsand a moving testimonial from UNCF Ralph Ellison Scholar and 2018 Spelman College graduate, Kristen Gordon
“Without this scholarship, I honestly do not know if I would be able to stand in front of you all as a graduate of the number 1 HBCU in the world,” said Gordon. “The work UNCF does to not only help support HBCUs but allowing students to afford an HBCU education is crucial and most importantly necessary considering the state of the world we live in today. I want others to be afforded the same opportunity I was given as I walk beyond the beloved gates of Spelman College with opportunities made possible by UNCF.” Since its founding, UNCF has raised more than $4.8 billion and has helped nearly half a million students earn degrees at UNCF-member HBCUs.
I, too, was a recipient of a UNCF scholarship during my collegiate days and can attest that the work UNCF does is very impactful to HBCU students. HBCUs are consistently overlooked for federal funding, which creates financial challenges for its students. I have first-hand experience with this issue. During my freshman year, I received a great financial aid package, but the following year I was not allocated the same funds, despite excelling academically. A financial aid counselor told me, “We can see that you’re doing well academically, but we’re not able to extend you the same offer due to a cut in funding.” Without the proper funding from their institutions, students suffer from not receiving a competitive financial aid package, but with organizations like UNCF, there is more consideration for the impact of HBCUs and the support champions of education should provide to deserving scholars nationwide.