What Does a Model UNCF Student Look Like?

Meet Cha’mira Keener, HBCU graduate and attorney at law

What would the model UNCF student be like? He or she would probably be a young person from a low-income family and with college aspirations. So it would likely be someone who needed a scholarship to attend one of UNCF’s 37 member HBCUs. And after graduating from college, he or she would launch a career of success and service.

It would be someone, in other words, just like Cha’Mira Keener.

Growing up poor in Houston, Keener, while still in her teens, took her younger brother to and from school, braided other students’ hair to earn money, helped her brother with his homework as well as doing her own—and still graduated high school sixth in her class and as a member of the debate team.

Her speech and debate teacher helped build Keener’s confidence and encouraged her to go to college. With her background in debate, it was no surprise that Keener chose UNCF-member institution Wiley University in Marshall, TX—a college with a legendary debate program, chronicled in the award-winning film, “The Great Debaters,” starring Denzel Washington—or that she received a full debate scholarship. In addition to her membership on the debate team and serving as class valedictorian, Keener was named “Miss Wiley University,” a title given to the team-leader whose team raised the most money for UNCF—helping other young people to get the education that meant so much to her.

While working as an intern at UNCF’s Houston area office, Keener met a mentor, Elizabeth Campbell, a partner and chief diversity officer at Houston’s Andrews Kurth law firm. “She was the one person who made me realize that law school was possible for me,” Keener told the Style Magazine Newswire. Campbell helped Keener apply to law school and get the scholarships she needed. Keener graduated from the South Texas School of Law and joined a Houston law firm. “With God’s help and the generosity of others,” she said, “I know that I will be a helpful servant to those who are less fortunate.”

Cha’Mira Keener is a model UNCF student, but she is not unique. UNCF-member HBCUs graduate 8,000 students every year. Three out of four UNCF students come, like Keener, from families whose income is low enough to qualify for Pell Grants, the federal government’s largest low-income student aid program.

UNCF Houston, where Keener worked as an intern, is proud to have helped her along her pathway to success and service, and proud to work every day raising the money that students like Cha’Mira Keener need to get the college degree they need, and that we as a community and as a nation need them to have.