New Orleans Leaders Turned Out for 9th Annual Mayor’s Masked Ball

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Mayor LaToya Cantrell speaks to the crowd on Saturday, March 25 at the Mayor's Masked Ball at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. (Photo by Drew Hawkins)

NEW ORLEANS — The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) hosted its ninth annual UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball on Saturday, March 25 at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. 

The social event raises funds from corporations and individuals to support students through the UNCF. Corporate partners, educators, religious leaders, and community influencers were in attendance. Organizers estimate that the event’s roughly 650 guests contributed about $700,000 to the cause.

Guests were greeted by the St. Augustine Marching 100 and serenaded by “Lady Jazz” Stephanie Jordan and Stephanie Mills. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, a Xavier University of Louisiana graduate, was the event’s host. A silent auction included personalized regalia from celebrities and athletes, including former Saints running back Ricky Williams and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders

Xavier president C. Reynold Verret introduced Cantrell, calling her a “daughter of Xavier University” who exemplifies the “call to service that she heard during her student days.”

“There is something very special about being a part of an HBCU family because no matter where you go around the world, it’s that family that keeps you humble, keeps you focused, and keeps you, every step of the way, representing those who have come before you,” said Cantrell.

For 77 years, UNCF has worked to provide more HBCU students with the funding and resources they need to transition into college, graduate and ultimately expand and diversify America’s highly educated workforce. More than three decades ago, Alden J. McDonald Jr., president and CEO of Liberty Bank, started hosting an annual gala in New Orleans to raise funds for local UNCF schools. 

“Alden started his events 35 years ago at his house,” said Michael Smith, chair of the event and general manager of the Hyatt Regency New Orleans. “And when he started it, he had a goal to raise ten thousand dollars. When we started the Mayor’s Masked Ball nine years ago, the first year we raised $1.3 million.”

Last year, despite the pandemic forcing the event to be held virtually, and with the help of the greater New Orleans community, more than 1.2 million was awarded in scholarships and programs for UNCF-member HBCUs and other colleges and universities. But, this year, everyone in attendance was excited to be back in person.

“It is just really an honor for us to be gathering together at a time when we’ve been through so much together,” said Cantrell. 

“This event gives us the opportunity to party with a purpose, while we raise funds to support our HBCUs and the students who attend them,” said Therese Badon, UNCF vice president of development, southern division. “It’s an opportunity for us to reconnect with our stakeholders and recognize those that are going above and beyond to create remarkable opportunities for our young people.”

Since its inception, the UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball has raised more than $11 million in support of local HBCUs and scholarship support to help students get to and through college successfully.

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