Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014
NCCU alumnae know how to throw a party! But one special group called the Circle of Friends knows how to throw a party that is also a highly successful annual fundraiser for student scholarships at NCCU and other HBCUs.
The Circle is a group of about 30 women, more than half of whom are graduates of NCCU. Each year, they organize and host a party on the final Saturday of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) basketball tournament. As a result, in 2013, the Circle contributed nearly $50,000 to support the Eagle Excellence Fund as well as the organization’s own endowed scholarship fund, now valued at $122,500.
A founding member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), NCCU withdrew from the conference when the university was reclassified as Division I in 1979. NCCU then played in the Division II CIAA until 2007, when Chancellor James Ammons decided it was time to begin the move back to Division I and a return to MEAC.
It was during those CIAA years that the Circle began to host the party.
"It was in 1993, in Richmond Virginia, and it snowed," founding member Chris Boozer, ’78, said of the original gathering. "We decided to have a party in the hotel room with a boom box and an open bar."
Another founding member, Denice Johnson, ’77, said that when the CIAA moved to Raleigh/Durham and Winston-Salem, the party outgrew their hotel room and even a penthouse suite. "We initially charged $5 admission and put our boyfriends and husbands to work as security," said Johnson.
Nearly every year, the Friends found themselves relocating to larger venues to accommodate the increasing number of guests. A few years ago, however, they settled at Charlotte’s Coyote Joe’s. Now the Circle of Friends’ party takes place at a venue that can accommodate 3,000 guests. The $30 tickets are presold and typically sell out. "We have to turn people away every year," said Johnson.
Boozer defended the group’s decision not to move to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) tournament when NCCU returned to that league in 2010. "We have a following at the CIAA" she said. "It’s a lot bigger and more famous than the MEAC."
The women of the Circle of Friends are organized into committees that address event logistics, finances and philanthropy, and they begin to plan the party six months in advance. The majority of the profits are directed to NCCU student scholarships, but because many among the Circle of Friends are graduates of other HBCUs, another portion of the proceeds is allocated to one of those institutions, as determined by the luck of a draw.
The 21st Circle of Friends party, held Saturday, March 1, 2014, in the Time-Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, N.C., was again filled to capacity. One attendee remarked, "There were 3,000 people there all the time. As some people left, there were others waiting to get in."
"For me, organizing this party is just my way of showing my love for NCCU," said Boozer. Certainly, NCCU students will benefit long after the party is over.