The 2018 United Negro College Fund-New Orleans Mayor’s Masked Ball is destined to be unforgettable. Now in its fifth year, the elegant, yet fun-filled night will include the sounds of the legendary O’Jays, the comedic styling of Johnathan Slocomb and more entertainment by New Orleans’ own Stephanie Jordan. Add to that, silent and live auctions, dancing, mixing, mingling and an elegant dining experience—all in one fine evening sandwiched in between Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest—and it is easy to see why the annual event is one of the hottest tickets in town.
Now, combine that with the fact that funds raised from the ball have made it possible for UNCF-New Orleans to provide more than $1.6 million annually for deserving students in its service area, which includes Dillard University and Xavier University here and Philander Smith College in Arkansas, and the annual Mayor’s Masked Ball emerges as more than a festive fundraiser and signature New Orleans event. It has become a local standard for what it means to “throw a party with a purpose” or “support a purpose . . . with a party.”
Then again, does it really matter how one turns the phrase so long as it results in giving young Black men and women the opportunity to pursue higher education in New Orleans and throughout the nation, strengthening families and building communities with every degree earned?
Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough says that from the UNCF-New Orleans Mayor’s Masked Ball alone, DU has received more than $1 million for student scholarships over the past four years.
“It is money we used to assist 414 students,” Kimbrough says. “Annually we receive another $170K a year from UNCF which will assist about another 35 students.”
This year, UNCF-New Orleans is hoping to exceed last year’s Masked Ball fundraising total of $1.7 million.
“What we do each year is try to meet the goal or beat the goal from the previous year,” says Therese Badon, UNCF-New Orleans’ vice president of development. “The reason for that is that the need is even greater. You see what’s happening in the economy, in the world. What we know is that our students need us more, so that support has to continue.”
It is hard work, but the local UNCF staff is up for the challenge.
“There is only one Fortune 500 company in New Orleans, so we have to tap into our small businesses,” Badon says. “We reach out to every organization and group.”
Marc Barnes, Dillard University’s vice president for advancement, says funding from UNCF is critical to not only students but the school.
“For Dillard, every time the university is able to provide a $2,000 to $3,000 scholarship to help a student remain in school, it retains another $18,000 – $25,000 in revenue for just one student. Over the past four years, that is at least $7.5 million in retained revenue for the 414 students who were assisted. For the students, that same $2,000 to $3,000 scholarship means remaining in school and earning a college degree. That degree creates opportunities for the students that they would not have had if they dropped out.”
For students like Morghan Hudson, a junior from Baton Rouge majoring in chemistry/pre-med at Xavier University of Louisiana, her scholarship from UNCF means everything.
“It’s been a great thing, without it I wouldn’t have been able to afford the tuition to attend a private, Catholic university,” Hudson says. “It has taken a burden off of my family; and I have been able to focus on my studies. I have had the opportunity to network with the people from UNCF, and other organizations and meet new people.”
We Know How to Ball
Badon is energized by the community’s support of the ball and the revenue it generates for scholarships.
“One of the things I am so proud about is our NOLA community—they show up and show out,” she says. “I want people to know how appreciative we are of the community. There are a lot of non-profits that people can support, but education is so key and so vital to our community and economy. As we look at bringing big business to our community, we have to make sure we have people with degrees who are prepared for the opportunities.”
Badon is especially gratified when she considers the event’s history.
“It started in the home of Alden and Rhesa McDonald more than 20 years ago,” Badon says. “When it outgrew their home, they moved it to the Lake Forest Plaza Mall in New Orleans East — the Ball in the Mall. Then we had the Ball on the Belle when the riverboat casino was on the lake.”
That all changed with Hurricane Katrina.
“Hurricane Katrina really dealt us a blow,” she says. Later, the ball was moved to Harrah’s Casino, but Badon says space limited the number of attendees and, by extension, the amount of money that could be raised by the event.
“We had to put our heads to figure out the next step,” Badon says.
In 2014, the event was rebranded as the UNCF-New Orleans Mayor’s Masked Ball; and it found a new home at the Hyatt Regency-New Orleans.
“It has been a blessing and an experience for all involved,” Badon says. “The Hyatt really understands the need and supports this event so that the money we raise can go to schools and students.”
Kimbrough, an Atlanta native who joined Dillard as its president in 2012 and is the former president of Philander-Smith is impressed by the growth and community support of the annual ball.
“In a couple of years, this became the biggest UNCF Mayor’s ball in the nation, bigger than the Atlanta gala, which is the oldest. In the past two years, (Atlanta) had to step up their game to be first again. So this is a testament to the tremendous commitment by Mike Smith of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans and the local UNCF staff. The community has been great as well, making this a large event in the city but also one of the most diverse.”
Making a Difference
Over the last ten years, UNCF-New Orleans has provided financial assistance to more than 1,000 students, with more than 120 students receiving scholarships from UNCF New Orleans during the 2015-2016 school year. Last year, the sold-out ball raised $1.7 million, with nearly 1,000 business, civic and education leaders joining Mayor Mitch Landrieu in supporting the event. This year’s ball takes place on March 17 at the Hyatt Regency. Tickets and sponsorships are still available. More information can be found on the UNCF-New Orleans website.
Founded in 1944 to help increase the number of Black students attending and graduating from college, UNCF is the nation’s largest private scholarship provider to minority students. Each year, it awards more than $100 million in scholarships to more than 10,000 students at more than 1,100 schools across the country, including the 37 HBCUs that are a part of its network. UNCF also manages a variety of scholarship programs, including the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, the Walton-UNCF K-12 Education Fellowship and the UNCF/Koch Scholars Program.
The United Negro College fund has had a pronounced impact on the lives of the young people it has helped and the communities they call home. Since 1946, UNCF has awarded nearly $5 billion in scholarships helping nearly 500,000 students earn degrees. And at 70 percent, the graduation rate of UNCF scholarship recipients is nine points higher than the national average for all students attending four-year colleges.
“The UNCF has been the single most important voice for HBCUs for over 70 years,” Kimbrough says. “It began as a support for the 37 member institutions, which is still the primary mission. Over time, especially after receiving the Gates Foundation gift, the UNCF has been a larger force in addressing the issues of students of color for all of higher education. So the UNCF plays a key role in fundraising, but also advocacy to provide resources through Federal funding as well.”
The Need is Great
While the Mayor’s Masked Ball is UNCF-New Orleans’ premier fundraiser, the local office also holds the annual UNCF Walk for Education, which raised more than $100,000 in 2017— the 30th anniversary of the event.
Despite the success of the ball and other fundraisers, UNCF can only help one out of 10 students who apply for scholarships, which means every contribution counts and more are needed. For anyone not able to support UNCF-New Orleans by attending this year’s ball or participating in the Walk later this year, making a donation is in the palm of your hands. Smart phone users can contribute $25 by texting UNCFNO to 50555. Donations can be made online at www.uncf.org/neworleans.
The local office will also conduct special meetings with corporations, organizations and community groups to outline its program and needs.
“We want to get the message out to the community to not just give this one time or come to this one event,” Badon says.
“We want them to continue to give so that we can not only get our students in college but get them through college. We partner with media to reach the masses. What we try to do is reach out to folk in community, reach out to businesses and corporations and explain to them what is needed in our New Orleans community.”