Forty years after its iconic advertising slogan, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste,” became part of the cultural lexicon, the United Negro College Fund has launched a new campaign and slogan to stir Americans into investing in the education of the next generation.
The campaign was announced last Friday in Washington, D.C., by UNCF President Dr. Michael Lomax. The “Better Futures” campaign features a new tagline that appends the old one: “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste, But a Wonderful Thing to Invest In.”
It includes a series of new public service advertisements that were created in partnership with the advertising agency Young & Rubicam and the nonprofit Ad Council, the team that created the original 1972 campaign when Vernon Jordan was UNCF executive director.
Lomax was joined at the Department of Education event by a room full of luminaries, including the Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Kaya Henderson, Jordan and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Lomax said the new campaign was “a call to action” to “ensure that our young people have the education they need to step up and be a part of a global economy that is tougher than ever before.”
Lomax said the new PSAs were designed to not only raise money, but inspire children to attend and complete college.
“Our young people need not only financial support and rigorous academics, they need us to foster a college-going culture,” Lomax said.
Duncan said although there has been progress in black communities with high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates at an all-time high, there is still more work to be done.
“At the end of the day, the number of African-Americans who have college degrees is about 20 percent in our country,” he said. “So to think we are anywhere near where we need to be would be an absolute fallacy.”
“If we don’t provide financial opportunity, if we don’t break down the barriers of cost, we will not produce that generation of leaders, of job creators or entrepreneurs who will come back to our communities and give our children a reason to hope,” he added.
The five 30-second PSAs star actual college and high school students from across the country. In one video (shown below), high school student Sidney asks the public to think of investing in a child’s education like a stock.
“Not the kind of stock that’s about making money,” she says, “but a stock for social change. When you invest, it helps kids go to college. My name is Sidney, and I’m your dividend.”
In another video, David, who grew up in the Cleveland housing projects, said, “Education for me has been a way to get away from the idea of what was a normal life. I want to be able to impact the community. Not just look back on where I came from, but to reach back to where I came from and pull some people up with me. My name is David, and I am your dividend.”
Jordan recalled that UNCF first launched the “A Mind is …” campaign as a way to bring America’s attention to the crisis in black higher education.
The new campaign, he said, expands on the original by asking the country to invest today in tomorrow’s leaders.
“In my time, it was about giving and this campaign is about investing,” he said.
Lomax said after nearly 70 years, UNCF’s investment in African-American education has totaled more than $100 million a year in scholarships for more than 10,000 students at more than 900 colleges across the country.
In addition, he said UNCF African-American scholarship student recipients have a 70 percent six-year graduation rate — which is an impressive 13 points higher than the national average for all students and 32 points higher than the national average for all African-Americans.