By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
There is an old African proverb that says: “Where you put your wealth signifies where and how your life’s priorities are ordered.” Such is the case when one views where and how corporate America invests its wealth beyond the boardroom and the stock market. There are some companies, however, like the Eli Lilly and Company and the Lilly Endowment Inc. that have had a long track record of investing portions of its wealth to support the education of Black America.
Our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) of higher education are struggling today financially to survive. I serve on the national board of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) that represents all the presidents and chancellors of HBCUS and PBIs. I know something of fiscal balancing act that the leaders of these important institutions of higher learning have to endure annually.
The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) is the largest minority education organization in the United States. Since 1944, the UNCF has raised more than $4.5 billion and has helped more than 400,000 students receive college degrees at UNCF-member institutions through scholarships and other forms of financial assistance.
Each year the UNCF works to enable more than 60,000 students each to attend college. We all should know or remember that UNCF iconic saying “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” This is so true today more than ever before. In fact, I affirm that “Black Minds Matter!” and “Black Lives Matter!”
The Lilly Foundation recently announced a commitment of $50 million for UNCF to launch the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative. Through this initiative, UNCF will award competitive grants to four-year historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly black institutions (PBIs) to help students gain the knowledge, skills, training and academic rigor needed for meaningful employment in a technology-driven, global economy.
The UNCF president and CEO, Dr. Michael L. Lomax, stated “We have designed a program that we envision will serve as a model of best practices to solve the unemployment and underemployment crisis among recent college graduates…In today’s marketplace, students need both the knowledge and soft skills to compete in the global economy. Sadly, too many of our nation’s talented students are having difficulty finding good jobs after graduation. Our goal is to work with students, faculty, colleges, alumni, and employers to better connect the student experience with the jobs of the future.”
The point that needs to be emphasized here is that the UNCF Career Pathways Institute would have been possible without the financial investment of the Lilly Endowment. We need more American corporations to follow the good example of Eli Lilly and Company and the Lilly Endowment.
As the economy in the U.S. continues to recover with renewed vitality and corporate profits, more private corporate investments in higher education needs to happen. We cannot afford to divert or miss encouraging a generation of young Black American scholars, scientists, teachers, inventors and innovative business leaders.
N. Clay Robbins, the Lilly Endowment’s chairman, president and CEO explained that, “This grant for the UNCF Career Pathways Initiative builds on this long-standing support and furthers the Endowment’s belief that a high-quality college education fosters an enhanced quality of life for individuals and their families.” Robbins is correct and on point.
The Lilly Endowment practices what it preaches and exhibits outstanding corporate social responsibility. Their support of cultivating and developing young Black minds and the genius of those who strive for academic excellence in Black America deserve our resolute salute and acknowledgement.
By sharing some of their wealth with UNCF and with HBCUs and PBIs, the Lilly Endowment exhibited in a profound manner that Black Minds Matter. We should recognize and lift up those companies and foundations that help to make a positive difference in our communities. The education of our youth has to be our highest priority. Our lives matter and our young people deserve the highest quality education possible. Yes, thanks to Lilly, Black Minds Matter.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: firstname.lastname@example.org; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.