On September 27 the Minneapolis Convention Center hosted the United Negro College Fund Empower Me Tour sponsored by Fed Ex and Proctor & Gamble and presented by Target. The UNCF Empower Me Tour, created in 2008 by Wells Fargo, brings Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to the Minneapolis-St Paul area.
The tour provides on-site college admission, scholarship awards, and workshops with the goal of empowering students and parents with the tools to pursue, continue and complete a college degree.
“Target is really excited and honored to support UNCF and the Empower Me Tour,” said Target Executive Vice President Laysha Ward, the company’s chief corporate social responsibility officer. “We have supported UNCF for 20 years. We know education is a pathway out of poverty and into economic opportunity. By tackling education, we can help be a part of the solution.”
According to Ward, Target returns five percent of its profits back to the community, equaling $4 million weekly nationwide.
“It is very important we hold this event,” said Sharon Smith Akinsanya, regional development director of UNCF, whose role is to make sure enough money is available to assist low-income students in pursuing higher education in Minnesota. “We have major disparities not only in the state, but the nation.”
Thousands of high school students from the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts and surrounding areas attended the event to receive information regarding HBCUs. The students also attended workshops of empowerment regarding perceived barriers of beauty for young women called “Girl Talk,” presented by Target Vice President Caroline Wanga, poet and youth engager of CoolSpeak Natasha Carrizosa, and Hampton University graduate and Miss HBVS LaQuayle Argurs.
“Our future depends on getting it right for all of our kids, but especially our children of color.”
There were also workshops that focused on overcoming barriers as young Black men. They included testimonies by creator of the nonprofit Tied to Greatness Dr. Alex Ellis, CEO of Harvest Network of Schools Eric Mahmoud, Chief Inclusion Officer James Burroughs, and 2014 Hampton University graduate Kyle G. Mason.
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges expressed the importance of Minneapolis being a location for the UNCF Empower Me Tour because of having “the worst disparities in the nation between Black and White students. Our future depends on getting it right for all of our kids, but especially our children of color. The United Negro College Fund has been dedicated to making sure that young children succeed.
“One of the great trends happening in Minneapolis is that we are becoming more diverse over time,” continued Hodges. “Even before I was mayor I knew the value of UNCF and what they do. But as mayor I can see it at work on the ground, giving young people an imagination for an educational future that can set them up for the rest of their lives.”
An article published last year in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss indicated the enrollment at many HBCUs such as Shaw University, South Carolina State, Tuskegee, Virginia State University, Dillard and Florida Memorial University have seen enrollment jumps of 29 percent or more. These institutions are depending on overflow housing to adjust to the growth of enrollment.
Dr. Michael L. Lomax,, said when the Empower Me Tour was first created eight years ago it was solely focused on financial literacy, targeting high school and college students.
“Over the eight years, we re-engineered the program for the focus of high school students to become college-ready and helping college students become career-ready,” Dr. Lomax told the MSR. In addition to the tour awarding $1.5 million in scholarships to Twin Cities students who attended the Empower Me Tour last year, Dr. Lomax reported that UNCF is very focused on academic preparation.
“We really focus on ‘Are you taking the right courses and preparing yourself for some post-secondary education?’ We know some students will go on to community college or apprenticeship programs, but our main [goal and message] is education is going to be a part of your preparation regardless.”
Nationwide, the UNCF Empower Me Tour awards 10,000 scholarships and internships in just under 400 programs to its 37 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Those awarded scholarships from the Twin Cities graduate at a rate of 81.9 percent.
Lomax explained, “The name of the tour is the Empower Me Tour, suggesting there is a psychological and social impact of the program as well, giving young people the sense [that] they can take ownership of their lives. As daunting and confusing as the journey may be, they can own that journey and drive it toward the goals they want to achieve.”
The Empower Me Tour that kicked off in Minneapolis will continue on to three more cities: Chicago, IL, Oakland, CA and Rochester, NY.
For more information regarding the UNCF Empower Me Tour, visit them on Facebook at UNCFEmpowerMeTour #UNCFEmpowerMeTour on Instagram and @EmpowerMeTour #EmpowerMeTour on Twitter. Also visit www.EmpowerMeTour.org.
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Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org