“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star is a five-time NAACP Image Award winner and strong advocate for youth and education.
Tatyana Ali, notably known as Ashley Banks from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” will be this year's keynote speaker for Mentor Tech's 14th Annual Celebration Banquet at 7 p.m. April 22 at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center Banquet Hall where parents, alumni and community members will celebrate program participants and graduating seniors for the 2015-16 academic year.
The five-time NAACP Image Award winner is a strong advocate for youth and education and a graduate of Harvard University with an anthropology degree in addition to her acting career.
“Each year it is our goal to select an accomplished individual to serve as our banquet speaker,” said Cory Powell, Mentor Tech program director. “Ultimately, we want someone who will inspire, motivate and challenge our students and all those in attendance to reach their ultimate potential. Ms. Ali is not only an accomplished, Broadway-trained actress, but also a brilliant, Harvard-educated woman with a passion for youth and education. I am confident those in attendance will leave empowered.”
Born and raised in the New York area, Ali began her acting career on the Broadway stage and performed in many shows, including “Fences” with James Earl Jones and, later, Billy Dee Williams.
When she began her television acting career, Ali appeared in “Sesame Street,” “Star Search,” winning twice, “Crocodile Dundee II” and “The Cosby Show.”
At the age of 11, Ali moved to Los Angeles and earned her role as Will Smith's younger cousin Ashley Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” During the show's seven-year run, Ali grew up from a little girl to young woman in front of the camera, capturing the hearts of many viewers with her talent and her notable rendition of Aretha Franklin's “Respect.”
After the end of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and a creation of a fan base, Ali continued her acting career and established a singing career. In 1998, Ali released her first album “Kiss the Sky” along with her single “Daydreamin',” which rose into the Billboard 100 Hot Singles, reigning at No. 6 for two weeks, and was certified gold within weeks of its release. With the success of her “Kiss the Sky” album, she got the opportunity to join *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys on their world tours. In 1999, her recording of “Precious Wings” for “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland” soundtrack won a Grammy Award for “Best Musical Album for Children.”
In addition to her to role as Ashley Banks, Ali claimed other noteworthy television roles, including the sharp-witted assistant Maya in the BET comedy “Second Generation Wayans” and as Roxanne on the long-running CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” She has appeared in numerous films, including “Kiss the Girls,” “Jawbreaker,” “The Brothers,” “Glory Road,” “Mother and Child,” “Home Again” and “November Rule.”
Ali also has made a career out of the limelight as an advocate for youth and education as a spokeswoman across the country and becoming actively involved with organizations dedicated to educating and professionally developing young people for leadership roles, such as the Millennium Momentum Foundation and Step Up Women's Network.
During the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Ali acted as a advocate for President Barack Obama, traveling to locations across the United States and speaking to communities about the importance of voting.
In 2014, she was a host for the United Negro College Fund's “Empower Me” tour, speaking to students, motivating and preparing them to go to and through college and inspiring them to take control of their futures by using education as the foundation for achieving their goals and dreams.
Ali also sits on the Teach for America Ambassadors Board and served as the national co-chair of the SAG-AFTRA Young Performers Committee. She has been named one of the most beautiful women in the world by People Magazine in 2011 and as the Black Girls Rock organization's “Young, Gifted and Black” Woman of the Year for her longstanding record of youth advocacy work.
“As we approach the 14th annual Mentor Tech Celebration Banquet, I am excited Ms. Ali has agreed to serve as our speaker,” said Paul A. Frazier, associate vice president for the Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement. “Each year I look forward to celebrating the accomplishments of the Mentor Tech students and honoring their dedicated mentors at the banquet. Ms. Ali's commitment to educating, developing and encouraging young people as leaders within their communities is beyond commendable.”
Mentor Tech, formally known as The Lauro Cavazos & Ophelia Powell-Malone Mentoring Program, was established in 2002 and seeks to enhance the quality of the educational experience of students from underrepresented populations through programs, services, advocacy, and campus and community involvement. The program provides students with information, encouragement and direction by pairing students with faculty and staff members to help them reach their academic, personal and professional goals.
The program has assisted more than 3,200 students with more than 1,000 of those students graduating from Texas Tech University and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center within the last 10 years.
Tickets for the banquet are $80 each or $100 for VIP; tables of eight cost $800 and $1,000 for VIP tables. All VIP purchases include premium seating, passes to the VIP reception and a photo opportunity with Ali. Sponsorship opportunities also are available. Proceeds benefit the Mentor Tech scholarship fund.
The banquet has featured notable speakers, including:
- Chris Gardner, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, author and philanthropist
- Glenda Hatchett, corporate lawyer, judge, author and advocate
- Cornel West, American philosopher, professor, social activist, author and public intellectual
- Hill Harper, film, television and stage actor
- Taraji P. Henson, award-winning actress and film star
- Nia Long, award-winning actress and pop culture icon
Mentor Tech is part of Texas Tech's Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement.