A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste. This nationally recognized statement of truth propelled the United Negro College Fund into American educational and fundraising history. Harriet Sherman Schimel was a member of the behind-the-scenes team. The following is part two of her remarks to her UNCF colleagues, gathered to celebrate her retirement. They share part of an untold chapter in Black history.
Very early one morning, a limo pulled up at my apartment in Queens. We drove to JFK to meet the red eye from LA and pick up Alex Haley whose televised historical novel, Roots, was astonishing America. I’d set up an 8 a.m. “power breakfast” at the Regency with UNCF’s corporate CEO supporters. Then off we went to Today and the other morning shows, where Haley generously shared his fame by promoting UNCF colleges. We were all in awe of what Alex Haley achieved, but he took it in stride… a truly kind and modest genius.
My work as VP of Communications was so diverse: Writing scripts and speeches, managing press relations, creating brochures and annual reports, producing films, joining the telethon team, recruiting celebs, and of course managing UNCF’s famous public service campaign. Most satisfying was the work Adrienne Rhodes and I did, along with Chris Edley and Virgil Ecton, to represent HBCUs to the world through the brilliance of Young & Rubicam’s creatives and the sponsorship of the Advertising Council.
The entire Ad Council campaign took us, over many years, from America’s urban streets to Tougaloo College in Mississippi and beyond, from slavery to freedom, spreading the word that education will make the critical difference and UNCF colleges will be the source of opportunity, if only you lend a hand. This campaign was the apex, the high note of United Negro College Fund’s message. The national branding it created made possible so many things… from Anheuser-Busch’s investment in a long-running telethon, The Lou Rawls Parade of Stars, to a ground-breaking $50 million donation from Ambassador Walter Annenberg in 1990, and much more.
I joined UNCF with experience in nonprofit public relations and an MA in Hebrew Culture and Education, which may seem like a strange qualification. In my Jewish tradition, we remind ourselves in our prayers, every single day, that once we were slaves, but God freed us to serve Him. We’ve carried with us this gratitude for freedom and the imperative of education through 2,000 years of ghastly expulsions, genocides, wars, and also during golden eras like today. So, it’s no surprise that the cause of the United Negro College Fund so naturally became my cause, too. I may have come from a different place; but all of us worked together as an amazing team to further America’s ideals of dignity and progress through education. I’m so grateful to have shared in the historic accomplishments of UNCF. May this pandemic pass quickly and may you live long and fulfilling lives.