When Sonia Cunningham’s kind, hard-working New York Police Officer son died unexpectedly this year at age 38, she first felt angry, and then the UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College nursing professor got her moving.
Within days of her son’s funeral – an event that drew 10,000 mourners to a church in Manhattan – Cunningham had launched the Keith A. Ferguson Scholarship Fund for Criminal Justice in honor of her beloved oldest child.
Six months later, the endowment stood at an impressive $38,000 – all from individual contributions sent by friends and co-workers. It will provide the first-ever scholarship endowment for students in the university’s criminal justice program.
On Sunday, August 8, Keith’s birthday, Cunningham is planning a fundraiser at her home at 3202 Seminole Court in Harlingen. The event begins at 6 p.m. and features a barbecue and silent auction. An impressionist painting donated by artist Sandra Urie of McAllen will highlight the silent auction.
are $25 and those in attendance will have the opportunity to win one of several
prizes, including two round trip tickets on Southwest Airlines. Sgt
Tanya Jackson of the Chief of Patrols office of the New York Police Department
will attend to represent the NYPD. Several police chiefs in the Rio Grande
Valley are supporting the event as well.
“I don’t want Keith to be forgotten,” Cunningham says. “Someone in the future may say, ‘I got a scholarship to go to college!’ and they may mention Keith’s name. I’ll be happy with that.”
Cunningham hopes to award one scholarship to the local police academy, and one for study toward a degree in criminal justice at UTB/TSC. She has a special interest in helping women train for criminal justice professions.
Her son was a personable, passionate young man who followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the NYPD in 1987 and heading off to work each day “with a bounce in his step.” He became a supervisor with the elite Hercules Anti-Terrorism Task Force of the city’s Emergency Services Unit, and had served with international peacekeeping forces in Bosnia. He had just returned from a trip to Australia when he collapsed at work, answering another officer’s call for assistance.
Ferguson was also well known in the Rio Grande Valley, where his mother moved in 1988. He often spoke at his mother’s classes, when Cunningham was a high school teacher, and made many friends in the community.
“I feel strongly about education,” says Cunningham, who comes from “a long line of teachers” who is active in their communities. “I feel education changes lives. In a community like ours, education is the difference between stagnation and success.”
For more information, call the UTB/TSC Office of Development at (956) 983-7359 or (956) 389-6859.