GARY | Michael Lomax, CEO of the United Negro College Fund, believes investing in students and their education is the best form of economic development, whether in urban, suburban or rural locations.
Speaking to 300 business and community leaders at the inaugural UNCF Mayor's Breakfast hosted by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Lomax spoke on the importance of college education, saying it's the key to society's greatest challenges.
Reflecting on a speech given by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lomax said education can help overcome poverty, racism and war.
"I believe the greatest economic development program, the greatest anti-crime program, and urban vitality program is a good education," Lomax said. "Give young people a sense of opportunity and belief in themselves."
Injustice has become more subtle since the days of Dr. King, but Lomax encouraged and thanked the supporters at the breakfast to fight against injustice in an imperfect education system.
"We have to stand up against an injustice that's harder to see than a 'whites only' sign," he said. "We have to see the inequality of the education system that gives opportunity only to some."
The Northwest Leadership Council, a local UNCF branch, has provided more than $300,000 in scholarships to regional students since 2007.
Alanna Hearon, a recipient of the 2013 UNCF scholarship from the Northwest Leadership Council, attends Alabama A & M and is considering a degree in either engineering or biology.
"It feels great to have someone investing in you," Hearon said to the crowd, "because a lot of students in Gary don't get to feel that support."
The breakfast raised more than $38,000 that will fund scholarships for minority students in Northwest Indiana. So far the regional council has provided more than 50 scholarships for students, averaging about $3,000 per student.
Lomax said it was important for the students to receive support financially if they put the hard work into their studies. If it comes down to not being able to afford a college education, supporters of the UNCF can "step up" to help.
"We all believe that these young people deserve a chance," Lomax said. "We all believe that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in."