Black History Month: Legacy of United Negro College Fund

Founded in 1944 to bring educational equality

INDIANAPOLIS - One local organization is opening doors in Indiana and making an impact with its timeless phrase, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

Brittany Harvey has always had an active, inquisitive mind. She grew up reading the dictionary in her free time.

For Harvey, expanding her vocabulary led to expanding her horizons. The Park Tudor School graduate knew she wanted to go to college. Money was tight in her single-parent household, but she had the will and she found the way.

Harvey’s mom would come home and ask how many scholarships she applied for every day. Harvey was able to find the United Negro College Fund, and in turn, UNCF found her.

Harvey is now a junior at Indiana University and is majoring in political science. She is part of a longstanding legacy from a program born of necessity in the 1940s -- near the end of World War II and the onset of the Civil Rights Movement.

The fundamental goal when it was founded in 1944 remains the essence of its mission today.

"Equality in education. Separate didn't always mean equal," UNCF Regional Development Director Andrea Neely said.

Neely is helping to carry on a tradition that started with former Tuskegee University President Frederick D. Patterson who founded UNCF initially to raise money for historically black colleges and universities.

"Commitment to educating African-American students because of the inequality and it wasn't equitable then. And so UNCF became the organization that supported African-American institutions, like Spellman and Fisk, to educate our future leaders," Neely said.

Though its early years focused on funding black colleges and universities, UNCF now boasts raising $3.6 billion since its founding to help more than 400,000 students receive college degrees. 

"We are only second to the U.S. government in providing financial assistance to students of color to go to college," Neely said.

By 1972, the focus of the organization shifted to the students UNCF helped and the slogan that became the brand for the organization -- "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

"I grew up in the inner city. I'm one of the first generation of college graduates in my family. I'm living proof that historically black colleges and universities can really have an impact on someone's life and that UNCF makes it all possible," Marvin White, Chief Financial Officer for St. Vincent Health, said.

White, based in Indianapolis, acknowledged the impact UNCF has had on his life. Harvey said she already knows the positive impact the organization has had on her own life.

"A huge help. I mean without UNCF, I don’t know how I'd be paying for college," Harvey said.

Harvey is one of more than 300 Indiana students this year getting assistance from UNCF to attend Indiana academic institutions with more than $8 million invested in schools throughout the state.

Harvey is already giving back and investing in her own way-- volunteering at UNCF events, answering questions from high school students and helping them fill out UNCF scholarship applications.

UNCF is looking forward and trying to keep historically black colleges competitive with their research, development and technology all while providing for students who want the chance.

Follow Marc Mullins on Twitter: @marcmullins1 | Facebook: MarcMullinsNews

Print this article Back to Top