Lillian Bland continues to pay it forward

By Hal Morris

To whom much is given, much will be required.

This passage from the Bible (Luke 12:48) is a mantra Lillian Bland lives by.

It is why Bland, who earned an associate’s degree in 1985 from what was then Lexington Community College and later earned a bachelor’s degree from Midway University, has remain involved in the Lyman T. Johnson African-American UK Alumni Group.

For One Day for UK, the University of Kentucky’s 24-hour digital giving day on Sept. 16, the UK Alumni Association is fundraising for the Lyman T. Johnson Scholarship Fund. The fund was selected to anchor the 70 Years of Integration celebration at UK and provide minority students financial assistance in their pursuit of higher education. The alumni group is named after Lyman T. Johnson, who was the first African American to enroll at the University of Kentucky in 1949 and paved the way for integration in Kentucky higher education.

Since 2008, the Lyman T. Johnson African-American UK Alumni Group has awarded one or two scholarships each year based upon the funds available. The group’s goal is to ultimately raise $500,000 to fund approximately 20 scholarships annually for minority students. Among the organization’s major activities, each year the group awards the Lyman T. Johnson Torch of Excellence Awards to students and alumni at a ceremony during Homecoming.

Lillian Bland

Bland says she is proud the scholarship helps keep Johnson’s name alive for future generations.

“We are still preserving and honoring the legacy of Lyman T. Johnson by helping students who otherwise may not have been able to afford to attend a non-Historically Black College or University,” she says. “Maybe we help bridge the gap for someone and help with room and board or books or whatever else they may need.

“I always like to give back. I’m heavily involved in community service and wanted to see others have the opportunities to excel in something they may not have been able to without the scholarship money. You are helping a person who may be the next vice president or a doctor or lawyer or another next generation leader.”

The help Bland received when she first arrived at UK made her want to pay it forward.

“When I went to UK there weren’t many African Americans back then. With me being an only child, it was a great experience being involved with my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and I have stayed involved with them after graduating. I met lifelong friends at UK. Some of the people I met along the way were Chester Grundy, Buzz Burnam, Joyce Beatty and Tony Thomas. Just seeing them made me say I wanted to be like them and help students. Lee Jackson (president of the Lyman T. Johnson African-American UK Alumni Group) helped me get on the LTJ board,” says Bland.

After college, Bland worked for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government for 27 years before retiring in 2018. Now she works for United Airlines as a ticket and gate agent at Bluegrass Airport.

“I just wanted to travel, and you get to do it for free,” she says. “I have several places on my bucket list to explore.”You can make a difference and ensure students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to earn a degree at UK. Give to the Lyman T. Johnson Scholarship Fund on One Day for UK (Sept. 16) and your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to a total of $15,000. 

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