Photo by Ash Daniel
Candra Parker understands the importance of scholarships. "With six children in our family, affording college was questionable for me," she says. "My father went to the University of Virginia on my behalf in 1979, and the university provided me with a tuition-assisted scholarship."
Since 2010, Parker has served as area development director for the United Negro College Fund's Richmond office. Established in 1944, the UNCF stands by its original slogan: "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Through its efforts, the organization has helped put almost 50,000 minds to good use by providing about $615 million in scholarships.
Marcus Smith, a senior from Plainfield, Ill., studying finance and banking at Virginia Union University, credits the UNCF for his ability to stay in college during the last four years. After receiving a VUU presidential scholarship his first year, Smith took advanced honors courses, and his grade point average dipped to 3.49, causing him to lose the scholarship. During his sophomore, junior and senior years, he has received multiple scholarships through UNCF, including emergency aid and a Robert Dole Scholarship for disabled students. (Smith is legally blind in one eye.) He was on his own for room and board, and books, which he paid for by working part-time jobs at Walmart and Movieland, and by tutoring other students in math and business.
"If it wasn't for UNCF, honestly, I wouldn't be in school right now," he says. "Every year, I have been the president of the VU University Honors Program, which I consider my biggest accomplishment and have had to take all honors courses every year." He's also been able to maintain a 3.6 GPA. Smith says he hopes to become a financial advisor or possibly run a program that trains motorcycle riders.
The UNCF's Parker cites President John F. Kennedy as an early trailblazer in education efforts for African-Americans. "Kennedy, along with many prominent business leaders, black and white, came together and raised funds for students to attend historically black colleges, and that was during segregation times. Scholarships are even more relevant today," she says. "There are many choices, many universities." She notes that historically black colleges and universities still graduate the largest percentage of black teachers.
Parker wants to spread the word in Central Virginia that UNCF remains a good investment in the future of young people. "We administer at least 400 different scholarship programs," she says. "Some scholarships are for any student, regardless of race." Full scholarships are somewhat limited, but students are welcome to mix and match. Registering for UNCF provides an opportunity to see what's available.
In 2009, UNCF founded a program called the Campaign for Emergency Student Aid, for students who attend UNCF member institutions. "The recent economic downturn hurt the most vulnerable, including the 57,000 students at UNCF-member institutions, where more than half come from families with income under $30,000 annually," Parker says. On average, UNCF gives about 10,000 annual scholarships nationally, she says. Virginia ranks seventh in the country for the number of students receiving aid.
"They may be receiving scholarships that are administered by UNCF based on need, merit, GPA or a combination of all. Just about every major college in Virginia, or around the country, is represented by students who receive some form of aid through UNCF, " Parker says.
Scholarships are administered from the UNCF headquarters in Washington, through a centralized application process that allows a student to apply for various assistantships.
"It's such a wide range," Parker says, "but the only way to know if you qualify is to apply.
© Nancy Wright Beasley. All rights reserved 201 4