Paine College supporters and community members filled the Jessye Norman Amphitheater on Sunday to witness the debut of the the Ann N. Johnson UNCF Jazz Festival.
The event, named for a Paine graduate and former staff member, served as the kickoff event for the 2013-14 Augusta United Negro College Fund Campaign.
“It’s just really hit me, the honor that the college has bestowed upon me,” Johnson said. “It means a lot to me as a former student, as a family member of some full-time students growing up and as a retired 35-year employee.”
The campaign sponsors events each year to raise money for scholarships at Paine College, coordinator Leadra Collins said. When it came time to organize an event for this year’s campaign, she said she didn’t have to look far. After all, the event was Johnson’s brainchild.
“Years ago, we used to have this jazz festival,” Collins said. “We tried to think about what we could do to make this festival unique because the city has a jazz festival every Sunday. What better way to than to name it in honor of Mrs. Johnson? It’s all about scholarships and honoring a wonderful lady.”
Patrons were treated to live jazz while the sun set overhead. Vendors set up stands selling items from jewelry to barbeque. One booth was run by recent Paine graduate Jennifer Link, who was promoting her new clothing store, Custom Boutique.
“We’re here to support Paine while we promote ourselves,” she said. “I want to see Paine succeed and students succeed and graduate. Enrollment this year is at an extreme high, which is great.”
Leah Suggs, the assistant director of communications and marketing at Paine, said the event was expected to attract more than 500 people. By the start of the event, the campaign had raised more than $26,000 and expected to top $30,000 by the end of the night.
Suggs said the money will be sent to the UNCF, which will reimburse 75 percent back to Paine for scholarships. The remaining funds are kept for administrative purposes.
“That’s very important for Paine College so that we can help out our students who are struggling financially,” Johnson said.
Nine students were awarded scholarships last year, Collins said.
“We’re here to just have a great time, enjoy some fellowship and help great students.” she said.