While more than 100 guests dined, videos showcasing five bright, young African-American students rose above muted chatter. One student is going to major in political science, get a law degree, “come back to Detroit, boost the economy, become the mayor or something – try to make the situation better for other cities… I’m determined, it’s going to happen.
“My name is Justin and I am your dividend,” he said.
This perfect example of confidence and perseverance comes from the United Negro College Fund‘s (UNCF) recent media campaign and a fitting way to start its 7th Annual Mayor’s Luncheon. “Watch your Investment Grow” was the theme of this year’s event.
“Higher education and specialized skills are the key to advancement in the 21st century – at a time when the average minority family is in increasingly dire economic straits. These are some depressing statistics.” said Mayor Ivy Taylor, San Antonio’s first African-American mayor, in her keynote address. “During the three years after the Great Recession, white families regained 2.4% of their wealth while Latino families lost an additional 14% of their median wealth and black families lost an astonishing 34% of their wealth.
“Higher education is the surest route to economic stability and even affluence,” Mayor Taylor said.
It’s not enough to just go to college anymore, she said. Students and parents need to become “informed consumers.”
Not all degrees from different colleges and universities “pay off” equally.
Black students are 15 times more likely to attend colleges that report lower earnings from alumni, Taylor said, citing a Brookings Institute study. Attendance of black students attending top-tier colleges fell from 6% to 4% from 1980 to 2013. And many post-career college jobs pay less than $30,000.
“I’m not saying if your passion is in life sciences or psychology that you shouldn’t pursue a major in those fields. If you want to become a scientist or a counselor, pursue it, but you have to have a plan,” Mayor Taylor said. “Find out what degrees are in demand in your area and what kind of practical skills will make you most valuable.”
Taylor is a Yale University alum, an Ivy League education that she believes put her on the path she’s on today.
Attending Yale isn’t a silver bullet, Taylor said. When she finished school, she floundered a bit – worked at low-paying jobs she loathed. She had little experience with what to do with her degree because her parents and friends had little-to-no advice to offer.
“The dreams that you had as a child may have been limited by your life experience, your neighborhood, your ancestry, or maybe even your skin color,” she said.
In August of 1995, Taylor was 24, and she decided to make a change.
“I sat down and wrote down my career vision,” she said. “That notepad read: ‘I want a career that involves a commitment to positive social, physical, and economic transformation. I want to work with people to develop a better future. I’d like to communicate with other about ideas. I want a career in public service which combines several of my interests.’
“So, it’s so amazing to me that almost 20 years later I’m standing here as the mayor of our wonderful city of San Antonio and also teaching at the University of Texas in San Antonio and fulfilling all the things that I wrote out on that piece of paper,” she said.
Mayor Taylor called on audience members to serve as mentors for all students – to help guide those that may not otherwise have role models in their lives – mentors like local educator Katie McKinney Jones, who was honored during the luncheon with the UNCF Excellence in Education award.
“Katie is always ‘all in,’” said Aaronetta Pierce, distinguished arts advocate and civil rights leader. Pierce introduced Jones, who has served on countless educational and community boards and organizations. “Today we celebrate 35 years of educational service to thousands of young inquisitive minds in the San Antonio Independent School District.”
Jones graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School (now Brackenridge High School) and received a bachelor’s degree from Clark Atlanta University, and a master’s degree in education from Our Lady of the Lake University. She began her career as a school teacher and since then has risen to leadership positions, ranging from Girls Scout Troop Leader to serving on the boards of the Good Samaritan Center, American Red Cross, Family Services, the NAACP, and Communities in Schools.
“Education has always been foremost in my life and also in the community. I can not tell you how much I appreciate the UNCF,” she said.
More than 385 Texan students received a total of $1 million in scholarships from UNCF last year. Proceeds from Tuesday’s luncheon will benefit the four Texan historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs): Huston–Tillotson University in Austin, Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas College in Tyler, and Wiley College in Marshall.
Since its founding in 1944, UNCF “has raised more than $3.6 billion to help more than 400,000 students receive college degrees at UNCF-member institutions and with UNCF scholarships,” according to the UNCF website.
Michael Lomax, UNCF CEO, said San Antonio is on the right track.
‘This community realizes that the real work doesn’t begin at the 11th grade or 12grade level. It starts at (Pre-K),” he said. “And (achieving higher education) isn’t a black issue, or a white issue, or Latino or Asian issue. This is an American issue.”
He said that while workforce development or “education for jobs (is important), don’t forget education for citizenship.”
*Featured/top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor gives the keynote speech at the United Negro College Fund’s Mayor’s Luncheon. Photo by Iris Dimmick.