UNCF Moves to D.C., Hosts Masked Ball

Barrington M. Salmon | 1/30/2013, 10:05 a.m.

Two students, desperate for financial assistance, recently emailed the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) seeking help. Each was faced with the need to pay off outstanding balances of about $7,000 before they could register for a new semester. They had nowhere else to turn.

Luckily for them, the UNCF is able to give them, along with thousands of others, the financial support they need. That scenario plays out every day, the organization's leader said at a press conference and media tour of their new headquarters in Northwest. The organization recently moved here from New York after 20 years.

The UNCF's raison d'etre is to help increasing numbers of needy students navigate rocky financial terrain on the way to attaining college degrees.

"For most students, it's a complex, almost impossible system, from filling out forms to staying in college year-after-year," said Michael L. Lomax, Ph.D., UNCF's president and chief executive officer at the Jan. 24th event. "... There is a terrible patchwork of programs that do not work. Kids can't get loans. It doesn't work anymore. It's broken."

The UNCF plays a large role in being the financial fix. Lomax described it as the country's largest and arguably its most effective minority education organization. Washingtonians and others in the region will get the chance to show their support next month at the area's inaugural UNCF Masked Ball on Feb. 12. Proceeds from this event will support the education of almost 4,000 students studying in the Washington metropolitan area and others who attend UNCF's 38-member historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Co-chairs of the ball are Ernest D. and Debbi Jarvis and Dr. Dallas A. and DeDe Lea. Jarvis is the senior vice president of First Potomac Realty, while his wife serves as vice president, Corporate Citizenship and Social Responsibility at Pepco Holdings, Inc. Dr. Lea is the director of the Outpatient Spinal Cord Injury Medicine Program at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Northwest. His wife is one of highest ranking women in corporate America as executive vice president for Viacom.

"The mission of the UNCF is more important than ever. This is truly a party with purpose," said Jarvis, a fifth-generation Washingtonian, son of former D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis and grandson of noted scientist and physician Dr. Charles Drew. "Debbi and I are very committed to this and plan to be in this long term. My grandfather did some work on blood plasma. His driving force was education for the next level of Negro doctors."

Jarvis noted that his mother is an educator, so that the push for educational excellence and seeking to expand that to young people of all types runs deep.

"Ensuring that the UNCF continues its mission is personally important to us as graduates of Howard University, and we're honored to serve as co-chairs for the Masked Ball," said DeDe Lea.

The ball, which will be held at JW Marriott Hotel in downtown D.C., is expected to attract luminaries and dignitaries from business, education, politics, entertainment and a range of other spheres in and around the city. It will open with a VIP function for sponsors, a general reception and silent auction, a Parade of Dignitaries, dinner and a Parade of Masks. Dancing will follow with musical entertainment provided by Jeffrey Osbourne. Tickets begin at $500.