It is college graduation season and students across the country are preparing for that defining moment that will transition them from the classroom into the next chapter of their lives.
Over the past 20 years, 248 college students attending 38 of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have participated in this annual spring ritual, thanks in large part to the UNCF/Michael Jackson Scholarship Program playing a significant role in providing them needed financial assistance during their matriculation.
“For 75 years, UNCF has been committed to supporting HBCUs and to providing education for all who wish to get it, and Michael Jackson’s support has lasted nearly half of this organization’s very existence,” said UNCF President and CEO Dr. Michael Lomax. “We are grateful to Michael Jackson for his long-term investment in helping change the life trajectory of close to 250 students at 38 UNCF-member HBCUs, such as Shaw University, Bennett College, and Bethune Cookman University, in need of a college education that will continue to pay dividends for years to come.”
In March 1988, UNCF recognized Jackson’s extraordinary generosity and commitment to helping HBCU college students with financial assistance by honoring him with the UNCF Frederick D. Patterson Award, the organization’s highest honor.
“An education opens a person’s mind to the entire world,” Jackson said during his acceptance remarks at the awards ceremony. “There is nothing more important than making sure everyone has the opportunity for an education.”
Michael Jackson Scholars attend UNCF-member HBCUs and are pursuing degrees in a range of majors, including Communications, Education, Fashion Design, History, Music, Performing Arts, Psychology, and Political Science. Scholars are helped with tuition, room and board, books, or with repaying federal student loans.
“The Michael Jackson Scholarship was very crucial to my collegiate experience at Spelman College and truly a blessing my last semester,” said Kelsey Kenniel, operations engineer for Education Pioneers in Memphis. “The $5,000 award helped to defray school tuition and related expenses. My plan was to graduate a semester early to cut down on costs for me and my family, and the scholarship was one of the catalysts that helped propel that goal forward.”
Jackson, recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for “Most Charities Supported by a Pop Star” status as of 2000, was inspired to support college students by his deep belief in the importance of higher education. UNCF became one of the 39 charities Jackson supported during his lifetime when he gave $1.5 million in 1986 to establish a scholarship endowment. Jackson performed at Madison Square Gardens in 1988 and the first of his three concerts was a benefit for UNCF. He donated the proceeds from his performance in the amount of $600,000 to UNCF, making him one of the organization’s largest African American donors at the time.
The annual Michael Jackson Scholarship extends opportunities to students like Kenniel and empowers them to achieve their goals and fulfill dreams for their futures.
“My dream was to attend Spelman and be surrounded by women who look like me and who could hold my hand and challenge me to see that I could in fact be a ‘choice to change the world’, said Kenniel. “It is admirable that Michael Jackson is still making an impact even after his passing. His music and legacy still live on and are impacting the educational trajectories of individuals like me. I am forever grateful for the MJ Scholarship. It changed the entire course of my life and legacy.”
Please visit UNCF.org or follow @UNCF on Twitter for updates about this scholarship.