al calloway.jpgThe glossy brochure for an United Negro College Fund (UNCF) “An Evening of Jazz” fundraiser at downtown Fort Lauderdale’s Museum of Art featured a page detailing the South Florida civic and business involvement of John W. Ruffin Jr.

The affair marked the 25th year that Ruffin has chaired UNCF of Broward County. Ruffin pioneered black ownership of radio stations in South Florida with his purchase of WRBD Radio. Through the remarkable voice of black radio, Ruffin began his trek, raising more than $1 million for UNCF of Broward, including $70, 000 of his own money.

With a $50,000 check presented by Cyrus Jollivette, the African-American senior vice president of Blue Cross/Blue Shield during the event, the endowment scholarship in Ruffin’s name went over $100,000. The scholarships are primarily for Broward County students and for the two universities with which Ruffin is affiliated. 

Through myriad mainstream business and civic relationships, Ruffin became a founding member, board of governors, Nova Southeastern University Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, now serving his 25th year in that capacity. Nova is the eighth largest private university in the U. S. A., with some 200 acres in Davie.

Ruffin has also served on the board of trustees at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens for nearly 10 years and is currently vice-chairman of the board. Florida Memorial is one of four historically black institutions of higher learning in Florida and the only one in South Florida. Eighty percent of the faculty have a Ph.D., and the school specializes in aviation, music and producing teachers at all levels.       

Florida Memorial is a 132-year-old institution, having its origin in Live Oak in 1879. Ruffin played a pivotal role in recruiting the school’s new president, Dr. Henry Lewis III a FAMU graduate, pharmacist and entrepreneur who is also a good fundraiser.

Dr. Lewis and Ruffin see education as an economic driver. Ruffin says, “There’s a connection between strong academic institutions and economic development in a given community.” So, at Florida Memorial, where Dr. Lewis says “the tenets of a world class university is teaching, research and service,” staff will attract grants through research.

Procuring grants is a financial incentive for the university and builds a reputation for the school. Ruffin says that it “converts academicians into entrepreneurs and brings on a positive competitive spirit between departments.” Growth and development are an outcome and more talented personnel are attracted.

Ruffin is working very closely with Dr. Michael Fields’ brainchild at Nova’s Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship, where Dr. Fields is the Dean. The innovative Sales Institute will identify minority inner city students and give them “world class sales training.” Twenty companies will be recruited to sponsor trainees and mentor them.

“Students will work in a corporate environment as interns while in course work,” Ruffin says.

Participants will range from those in certificate programs through MBA and Ph.D. programs. With an MBA in marketing from Cornell University and years of experience, Ruffin tells us that sales is about presentation — how to close the deal.

“All corporations and other businesses are looking for this talent. Sales are what drive growth. We’re going to build some first-class sales people by providing them with the

tools they need,” Ruffin explained. In today’s workforce, Ruffin reminds, blacks and others are holding key positions in industry and more are developing, and the Huizenga School’s Sales Institute will also actively recruit them.

Ruffin believes that Nova and Florida Memorial have to have that which distinguishes.  He also reflects, “I could see the vision that if we were all playing on the same team there would be awesome synergy with UNCF, Florida Memorial and Nova.” UNCF is the vessel to provide scholarships for students in need of financial aid. It is a recognized credible national organization. What a model! How to maximize the utilization of available resources to stimulate comprehensive positive social change.

By the way, Dwight Stephenson,  the African American former Miami Dolphin football star and now successful builder, is doing some $13 million in construction work at Florida Memorial and black-owned Thompson Hospitality from Virginia provides the food service at the school. Education driving economics.

This is that Booker T. Washington/Marcus Garvey kind of civil rights.

Great job, brother Ruffin.

Al Calloway may be reached at