UNCF Launches the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship Program for Students Attending HBCUs

$200,000 in awards eligible to scholars enrolled in public and private four-year HBCUs

In commemoration of the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglass, a scholarship program was launched today in support of students attending accredited historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) nationwide. The program, which recognizes and celebrates one of the most transformative figures in our nation’s history, will be administered and managed by UNCF for a period of 20 years, through 2039.

The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship Program was established by New York City native Tony Signore, whose knowledge, respect and deep admiration for Douglass was instilled in him more than 35 years ago by the Jesuits at Fordham University. To honor one of the most important African American figures in our country’s history, the Signore Family designed and funded the program to recognize this historic leader, providing scholarship support to outstanding young women and men. It is the first ever Frederick Douglass scholarship aligned exclusively with accredited, four-year public and private HBCUs across the country.

The program will award a $10,000 scholarship to one exceptional HBCU senior per year who has demonstrated high academic achievement, strong leadership skills, commitment to community service and unmet financial need.

“It’s an incredible honor and privilege for our family to celebrate the life of a true American hero,” said Tony Signore, founder and chairman of The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship. “On the 200th anniversary of his birth, it is with great reverence that we reflect upon the legacy of a great man and leader who had such a profound impact on our nation’s history. We also understand the importance and responsibility of supporting HBCU scholars who demonstrate their passion for education.”

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, who was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland in 1818, became one of the most famous intellectuals of his time. His journey from an enslaved child, separated at birth from his mother, to one of the most articulate orators of the 19th century, was nothing short of extraordinary. At the age of 20, after several failed attempts, he escaped from slavery and arrived in New York City on Sept. 4, 1838, before settling in New Bedford, MA, with his wife, Anna.

The man who became known to the world as “Frederick Douglass” dedicated his life to the abolitionist movement and the equality of all people. In doing so, Douglass went on to become a great writer, orator, publisher, civil rights leader and government official. Douglass wrote three autobiographies, with his first and best-known, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, published in 1845. It became an immediate best-seller and was circulated throughout the United States and Europe. The Library of Congress named the Narrative one of the “88 Books that Shaped America.”

The father of the abolitionist movement, who advised presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson on the Civil War and black suffrage, respectively, has provided our country with lessons that remain relevant and impactful to this day. Throughout his life, Douglass was steadfast in his commitment to breaking down barriers between the races. His courage, passion, intellect and magnificent written and oratory skills inspired hundreds of the world’s most prominent civil rights activists of the 20th century, as well as pioneers of the women’s rights movement.

“The narrative of Douglass’s life is the foundation upon which many of us owe our path to a quality education,” said Michael L. Lomax, President and CEO, UNCF. “Paying homage to this great pioneer through The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship Program is not only admirable but speaks on the responsibility we all have in paving a road for the next generation of leaders.”


Selection Criteria

The inaugural application will open during the 2018-19 academic year, with annual applications thereafter through the 2038-39 academic year. Applicants for the program must meet the following criteria:

  • Be enrolled full-time as a senior at any accredited public or private four-year historically black college or university (HBCU).
  • Possess a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale as verified through submission of a current transcript.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to community service.
  • Have a demonstrated, unmet financial need as verified by their college or university.


Application Process

Applications are to be submitted online and include:

  • Two letters of recommendation from faculty members on how the applicant reflects the values espoused by Frederick Douglass.
  • Responses to two essay questions. The first requires the applicant to assess self-awareness, leadership and community involvement. The second will address the impact Frederick Douglass had on society in the 19th century and its relevance today as our nation continues to fight for equality.

The application is available at UNCF.org/FrederickDouglass.


Program Administration and Selection Process

  1. UNCF will administer and manage the program, which includes online applications, applicant relations, awarding and reporting.
  2. UNCF will screen all applications to ensure they are in compliance with the program, then thoroughly review and rank the applicant pool.
  3. UNCF will provide a list of its top 10 finalists to an esteemed panel of judges selected by Signore. The judges include the direct descendants of Frederick Douglass—Nettie Washington Douglass and Kenneth B. Morris, Jr.; senior academic leaders and scholars—Dr. Rochelle Ford and Dr. Benjamin Robinson; and Leon H. Carter, Vice President of ESPN and Founder of the Sports Journalism Institute.
  4. Following a thorough evaluation of the 10 finalists, the five judges will rank their top three finalists and submit their feedback to UNCF.
  5. UNCF will select one program award winner, annually, from the three finalists. Award winners will be provided a $10,000 scholarship during their senior year.



About UNCF
UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. To serve youth, the community and the nation, UNCF supports students’ education and development through scholarships and other programs, strengthens its 37 member colleges and universities, and advocates for the importance of minority education and college readiness. UNCF institutions and other historically black colleges and universities are highly effective, awarding nearly 20 percent of African American baccalaureate degrees. Today, UNCF supports more than 60,000 students at more than 1,100 colleges and universities across the country. Its logo features the UNCF torch of leadership in education and its widely recognized motto, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”® Learn more at UNCF.org, or for continuous updates and news, follow UNCF on Twitter at @UNCF.

About Tony Signore
Tony Signore is the CEO and managing partner at Taylor, a brand counselor and public relations partner to a select portfolio of the world’s leading consumer brands. The measurable results of his innovative approach, bold vision and unique business model were validated through the publication of a Harvard case study titled, “Transformation at Taylor.” His career accomplishments and influence on C-suite executives nationwide earned Signore a SABRE Award, the industry’s highest honor for outstanding individual achievement. Signore, a graduate of Fordham University, resides in New York City with his wife, Elizabeth. They have three children: Rocco (23), Yvette (22) and Ashley (21).