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.

Sixty-five years after a group of historically black colleges came together to form the United Negro College Fund, a mind is still a terrible thing to waste. The UNCF is continuing its mission of raising money to support its 39 member HBCUs as they fight to stay afloat amid the economic downturn. However, flush with a $1.6 billion philanthropic gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, today the organization’s mission has evolved to include helping a wide range of people of color get access to higher education. UNCF President and CEO Michael Lomax sat down with The Root to discuss the evolution of the organization.

The Root: How do you see UNCF evolving now?

Michael Lomax: We’ve raised almost $3.8 billion over 65 years to, first of all, support our colleges, and also to support scholarships. We are still in the fundraising business—that’s a core strength of the organization. But the world has changed, and our work has changed.

We don’t just support students at HBCUs. We support students all over. We don’t just support African-American students. We support Hispanic, Asian and Native American students.

We’ve received the largest single gift ever made in higher education: $1.6 billion from Bill and Melinda Gates. They really felt we’d be great stewards, and we’d produce strong results. And they asked us to do something that is deeply rooted in our heritage. And they asked us to stretch a little bit. That’s where UNCF is today. We continue to do our heritage work. But we’re stretching. We are being muscular and agile. And I think we are finding a balance between the important work that we’ve always done, and the new work that we have to do. I view UNCF as an organization that began to address the needs of one community and now is called to help the nation address its needs. And I find them interrelated and complementary. And I feel very good about it.