The United Negro College Fund recently gathered the region’s most influential African American business leaders for a glitzy masquerade ball, the group’s first local gala in almost 10 years.
Nearly 450 of the region’s African American business elite hid behind gleaming face masks as they dined over a three-course meal at the JW Marriott in Northwest Washington. The group celebrated UNCF’s achievements and danced into the midnight hour to live entertainment performed by R&B artist Jeffery Osborne.
This is the minority scholarship charity’s first gala since ceasing its annual Sports Ball in 2004 after officials decided to cut back on major events across the national organization. Now after moving its headquarters to the District in October, the local chapter is looking to revitalize its support from the private sector. Officials said this major event is the best way to build that support.
“When you don’t have a large event, there’s corporate dollars you just don’t get,” said Meta Williams, UNCF’s regional development director. “It helps raise your profile, but also connects the corporate sector to support your mission.”
So far, UNCF’s local chapter has solidified partnerships with big corporate names, including Pepco, Viacom, FedEx and Reed Smith — all of which have African American executives affiliated with the charity.
Geico has been an official corporate partner for the past four years, sponsoring UNCF events including its Evening of Stars, a celebrity-filled, nationally broadcasted benefit program.
At the gala, the insurance giant announced a $10,000 donation to a UNCF program that provides emergency financial relief for college seniors unable to afford tuition.
“In these economic times, it is very important to us that students get this type of aid,” said Rynthia Rost, Geico’s vice president of public affairs, who also recalled receiving a UNCF scholarship to continue her studies at Fisk University in Tennessee.
Through ticket sales, donations and a silent auction, UNCF raised $370,000, just shy of its $400,000 goal. Charity officials say those funds will support scholarships for students from the Washington area.
UNCF provides scholarships for 60,000 students around the country attending 900 colleges and universities. It also provides financial assistance to 38 higher education schools in its network, all of which are historically black colleges and universities. The group’s local chapter awards scholarships to 3,800 students from the Washington region.
In addition to the funds raised during the event, UNCF officials counted the night’s guest attendance as a success.
“To have business people of this ilk to step up and take a look at us is very important for us,” Williams said.
Business leaders at the event included Ernie Jarvis of First Potomac Realty Trust, and his wife, Debbie Jarvis, of Pepco; Dallas Lea of MedStar National Rehabilitation Network, and his wife, DeDe Lea, of Viacom; Roy “Chip” Ellis of Ellis Development Group; Dennis Perkins of Civitas Commercial Real Estate; and David and Elizabeth Carmen of the Carmen Group. Also in attendance were UNCF president and chief executive Michael Lomax and D.C. Councilman Vincent Orange.
Other sponsors included Reed Smith, Perennial Law Group, BDO USA, iCore Networks, Carefirst BlueCross BlueShield and the Washington Teacher’s Union.