It could’ve been Super Bowl Sunday at this year’s annual NEED dinner, as guests waved their napkins like terrible towels at a football game. But the sea of waving green and white in the ballroom of the Wyndham Grand Hotel March 14 wasn’t in support of a football team; it was in support of this year’s NEED scholarship recipients.

“Since 1963, NEED has been building on our legacy. Tonight we will be awarding scholarships to 44 of the region’s best and brightest students,” said Harold Hayes, the event’s master of ceremonies. “These students will join the 19,000 other NEED recipients.”

NEED SCHOLARS—Forty-two of the 43 scholarship recipients gather for a group photo at the 49th Annual NEED Benefit Dinner. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

As the oldest community-based, nonprofit, minority, higher education assistance program in Pennsylvania, NEED has provided scholarships for African-American students pursuing post secondary education for nearly a half century. The theme of the 49th Annual NEED Benefit Dinner was “Building on Our Legacy: Rooted in the Past, Growing Towards Our Future.”

“We all benefit from the legacy of an educated family,” said Sylvester Pace, NEED presidents and CEO.

With SAT scores reaching nearly 1600 and acceptance to colleges like Harvard University, this year’s class of NEED scholars represents some of the best and brightest African-American students in not only the city, but also the state and country. Together, they received more than $100,000 in scholarships.

There to address this year’s recipients was John Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education., whose mission is to ensure a high quality public education for all students regardless of race or gender.

“Tonight is about these young people, these all stars. And I want to thank this community for supporting them because I’m one who believes it takes a village to abandon a child. Tonight you all have invested in revolutionaries,” Jackson said. “The data says this population should not be on a trajectory to graduate. So I always say people who swim against the tide are revolutionaries. You’ve managed to swim against the social policies and practices.”

Jackson said two-thirds of all new jobs being created require some college education. He also said Historically Black Colleges and Universities differ from others because they can educate students who enter with a low GPA or a high GPA and prepare them both equally.

“Your success getting to this point is important, but the data says only 36 percent of Americans finish college. There’s still more that needs to happen. You’re at a strong start, but the race isn’t over,” Jackson said. “Know that you have all you need to do what you’ve been called to do. There’s a certain level of persistence that you’re going to need to do this.”

Despite the state of the economy and cuts to funding for higher education at the state level, NEED’s revenue gains and other support has been steadily increasing. The total for 2011 of $2,845,678 is an increase of more than $500,000 from the previous year.

In addition to the grants and scholarships they provide for students, NEED also operates several programs and services. These include the Workforce Diversity Internship Program, African American Male Mentoring Initiative, Access to College and Career Education Program, Historical Black Colleges and Universities Educational Tour, and STEM Pilot Program, to increase female participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

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