What the ‘N’ in UNCF Stands For These Days

United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax speaks on the 65-year-old organization’s new multicultural mission, how he feels about a non-black Miss Hampton and how they’ve been spending the $1.6 billion gift from Bill and Melinda Gates.

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ML: We’ll have 5,000 Gates scholars at any given day of the week. Sixty-five percent of those are not African-American. But we have about 400 separate scholarship programs. Some of them explicitly say ‘for African-American kids.’ We don’t always know the race of the person who receives the scholarship. Frankly a lot of kids who are not African-American go to the UNCF Web site looking for scholarships. And I think you see that just because of the economy.

TR: And the member HBCUs are increasingly diverse, as Hampton University recently learned.

ML: There is this notion that our schools are homogenous, and that because they are historically black they are exclusively black. And that just means people don’t know. These schools have a rich tradition of diversity. That doesn’t mean that it has always been without controversy…. Let’s get this straight: Even if they became 50 percent non-African-American, they would still be historically black. That speaks of their heritage. And I’m certainly not going to predict whether these institutions will always be so disproportionately African-American, or even of color. But they will always be historically black.

TR: What was your feeling about the controversy around the non-black woman being crowned Miss Hampton?

ML: The young woman at Hampton obviously made a decision to go to Hampton because she thought it was going to be the right education for her. Obviously, there was something quite compelling about Hampton. I think she’s discovered something that we think more and more young people are discovering and that is these schools are places they can get a great education and the only barrier is their own perception.