UNCF area director Laverne McCartney Knighton is about to celebrate her second anniversary making sure no minds are wasted among college-bound kids deserving scholarships in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“Honestly, zero” time is spent anywhere but here because “Minnesota has all of the focus. We don’t have enough resources or bandwidth to cover those other markets. At some point when the office is fully staffed, perhaps that can be something that we could aspire to do. In years past when the office had more staff — I don’t have a development director — people covered some of that area.”
A retired Target exec, who went to UNCF from the small nonprofit BrandLab, she is exploring fundraising ideas to accompany the organization’s largest event, the Twin Cities Masked Ball.
“It’s imperative that we start looking at other opportunities to help kids get to and through college. There was a time when we did the governor’s leaders luncheon for education under Gov. [Mark] Dayton. We used to do a Walk for Education. One of my goals is to reintroduce the walk with all the HBCU [historically black college or university] alumni who live and work here; it’s a great community builder, a way to elevate the UNCF brand.”
In partnership with General Mills, UNCF sponsors the annual MLK Day Breakfast, one of the largest celebrations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life in the nation; 2,400 attended this year when CNN’s Don Lemon gave the keynote speech. Read on to see whom they hope to book for 2020.
Q: Isn’t is ironic that Beyoncé, who like her husband, Jay Z, never attended college, reportedly has affected enrollment at HBCUs by paying homage in her 2018 Coachella performance and subsequent “Homecoming” album and documentary?
A: That is phenomenal. I’ve watched that documentary. She definitely exposed, in a wonderful way, HBCUs in all their glory and the elements that make attending HBCUs an experience. I was very impressed.
Q: How many scholarships does this area’s UNCF award?
A: We have seven designated scholarships we raise money for in this market. UNCF, as a whole, has over 400 scholarship programs. Each market has its own opportunity to create specific scholarships. We create scholarships with companies and corporations [that] want to designate funds for specific interests areas. We have about seven that we oversee that address the health care industry careers, the sciences.
Q: Is it true UNCF gives scholarship to students who are not attending HBCUs?
A: Yes. The scholarships vary. Some are worded in such a way that say “only for students going to UNCF member schools.” We have 37 of those, private colleges. Other scholarships, the criteria is for any students going to any HBCU. And then there are scholarships that say students going to any college.
Not all the kids from Minnesota, in particular, are going to HBCUs, so we have to expand the net. Even though our scholarships are mainly for students of color, UNCF member HBCUs admit without reference to race or ethnicity.
Q: What can commencement speakers who are not billionaires like Vista Equity CEO Robert F. Smith, who recently offered to pay the student loans for Morehouse College graduates, do that will have a financial impact on grads to whom they are making that big address?
A: Commencement speakers can do a lot by just challenging students who are graduating to give back to their own institutions and help build those endowments. A lot of HBCUs are struggling because we are not supporting our own. It doesn’t have to be a lot.
Q: Does Smith’s offer to the graduates take giving a commencement address off the bucket lists of people who can’t make a similar gesture?
A: I know. It’s such an amazing gift. It puts a lot of pressure on everybody. To whom much is given, much is required. He has set and raised the bar. I learned yesterday he gave UNCF $48 million in 2016 through his Fund II Foundation to underwrite UNCF’s STEM Scholars Program, a pipeline for technology and innovation careers. Smith also recently matched $1 million of funds raised during UNCF’s 75th anniversary gala in D.C.
Q: I hope Morehouse College grads remember to send Smith thank-you notes.
A: I do, too. That’s another thing working in this role has opened my eye to — you don’t always hear back from the student. You have got to be grateful and show it in writing and come back and let us know. Tell your story. Let us help share that story with others.
Q: On whom does the UNCF have its eye for the 2020 MLK Day Breakfast keynote?
A: We’ve got a pretty short list. Trevor Noah [“The Daily Show” anchor] was high on our list. I don’t know where we are. This will be the 30th year. We truly want to get a powerful speaker.