WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a strategic move to get closer to both the students it serves as well as the focal point for the nation’s education policy, United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax formally announced plans Monday to relocate the organization in the heart of one the most historic Black neighborhoods in the nation’s capital.
“We been out in the suburbs way, way too long,” Lomax said at the historic Lincoln Theatre, where he shared the stage with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, District Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, developers and a host of other key players in the approximately $150 million project known as Progression Place.
Lomax told the audience of hundreds that when UNCF moved from New York City to its current site in Fairfax, Va., 17 years ago, it was to position the organization closer to the “hub of the national education policy conversation.”
“Now, we are completing the journey, moving into the city itself,” Lomax said, “not only because it is, more than it was 17 years ago, where people come together to discuss and make educational policy, but because Washington, D.C., has become the country’s marquee site for education reform.
“We need to be where it is happening on the ground and we want to be part of making it happen.”
The new UNCF headquarters will be located in D.C.’s historic Shaw Neighborhood, not far from the one-time residence of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of Negro History Week.
Specifically, it will be located on 7th St. between T and S streets in the Northwest quadrant of the city, just south of the Howard University campus, putting UNCF literally within eyesight of one of the many HBCUs whose students benefit from UNCF-administered scholarships.
Progression Place will provide a total of 325,000 square feet, 100,000 of which will be office space and 20,000 of which will be occupied by retail stores. The structure also will house 204 apartments, a quarter of which will be for low-income residents.
The first floor will host a UNCF “college knowledge” center, which Lomax said will function as a one-stop shop for aspiring college students from D.C. and elsewhere to get information on issues ranging from college entrance exams to accessing financial aid.
Gray said the UNCF project will further link the Shaw neighborhood, which is undergoing revitalization, to the city’s downtown.
“What is happening now is something that never happened before, and that is a connectivity between our downtown and the rich areas of Shaw,” he said. “The coming of UNCF and Progression Place and the long-awaited rejuvenation of the Howard Theatre will connect our downtown and the Shaw areas in ways that they’ve never been connected before.”
District Council Chairman Kwame Brown said he was particularly pleased to help bring UNCF to D.C. because he benefitted from UNCF himself with a $1,500 scholarship he credits with keeping him in school.
“No doubt, I would not be here today if it were not for the UNCF making it possible for me to stay in school and continue my education,” he said.
Brown noted that while the UNCF project would create jobs and increased tax revenue, its true significance would be creating and educating a new generation of leaders.
Congresswoman Holmes Norton also praised UNCF’s decision to move to D.C.
“We need all the help we can get from UNCF and many others who have understood that the nation’s economic growth will be stunted without a greater priority on education, and particularly on those who are not going to college in large enough numbers,” she said. “They are the very population of students that UNCF supports and reaches out to.”
Lomax, invoking his organization’s now 40-year-old motto, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste,” voiced similar thoughts.
“We believe that from Washington, D.C., we can be an even more effective advocate for low-income children of color,” he said. “We can make sure that their voice is heard and their interests are addressed.”