In March 2021, Milton H. Jones, Jr., ’74 became the first African American chair of the board of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), a philanthropic organization that funds scholarships for Black students and financially supports and advocates for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“I’m honored to be the first African American chair, and some folks have asked, ‘How can that be?’” he says.
According to Jones, who has been on the UNCF board since 2005, the board has always been a diverse group, and now the timing was right for him to assume the helm.
“Whether I was the first or the 10th [African American chair], I’d be committed to [UNCF],” Jones says. “From the very inception of UNCF, the board has always been integrated — always had Black and white, men and women. And when it was founded, that was unusual. Even for organizations that helped African Americans, the boards were made up largely of white men. So diversity is at the core of what we do.”
UNCF awards scholarships to more than 10,000 students each year and is the nation’s leading advocate for the importance of minority education and community engagement. One of Jones’ goals as the chair of the board is to double the number of students who receive financial assistance from UNCF. Financial aid is what helped his family afford Notre Dame tuition when he studied accounting at the University in the 1970s.
“Between student loans, work-study jobs, what my family could do, and what the University could do, I was able to go,” Jones says. In the years since he graduated, Jones has been instrumental in supporting Notre Dame’s Frazier Thompson Scholarship (FTS), named after the first African American to graduate from Notre Dame, which offers merit-based financial aid to Black students. The scholarship is supported by the Black Alumni of Notre Dame, of which Jones is an original member.
As an accounting student at Notre Dame, Jones recalls wondering why he had to take so many required courses in philosophy, theology, and sociology.
“I’ll admit I was wrong at the time,” he laughs. “Honestly, that shaped my life. I certainly learned a lot from my accounting, finance and data processing courses, but what helped shape my views toward life as a leader was the philosophy, theology and sociology exposure I got.”
Jones started his career in public accounting and then spent 32 years working in finance, in senior executive roles with global responsibilities at Bank of America and its predecessors, including C&S-Sovran Bank and NationsBank. After retiring from Bank of America, he helped create CertusBank, the largest bank founded by African Americans in U.S. history. He is currently a founding member of Peachtree Providence Partners Holding Company, a consulting firm and insurance brokerage that also supports funding for workforce housing.
The Atlanta native has also spent his life in service to local and national nonprofits that support and advance opportunity for others. Locally, he has served on boards and advisory councils for the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Metro Atlanta YMCA, Downtown Atlanta Rotary, Atlanta Business League and the 100 Black Men of Atlanta. Nationally, in addition to his work with UNCF, he has served on boards for the 100 Black Men of America and Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
“I think that all of us have to account for the use of the skills and talents we’ve been blessed with and the difference they’ve made, not only in our lives and the lives of our families, but in the lives of others,” he says. “It is a philosophy for me, and I believe it has helped me live a full life. Our kids are the joy of our lives and our grandkids are an extreme joy of our lives. So we’ve been fortunate, and I think the example we’ve set is one that they’ve looked to and continue to espouse. It’s important —we can’t have a better world without us contributing to make it a better world.”
His son, Milton C. Jones ’99, earned his undergraduate degree in marketing, and daughter, Tiffany M. Jones ’03, graduated with a master’s in accounting. Between them, the two have four children, the grandchildren Jones speaks of lovingly. For the Jones family, Notre Dame instilled an ethos by which the patriarch lives his life.
“At Notre Dame, I learned to not only care, but also how to do something about problems that needed to be solved,” Jones says. “The values that Notre Dame helped shape in me and guide my life align powerfully with the work I do as Chair of the UNCF Board. And that’s why I love the ‘What would you fight for?’ commercials Notre Dame has. For me, there are a number of things I will fight for: Certainly the end of racism, the elevation of justice, and the opportunity for all people to reach their full potential. Hopefully this will happen in my lifetime, but if not, in the lifetime of my children and grandchildren. Anything I can do to help make that happen, I will fight to do.”