If you’re conscious of racial inequality in America at all, you know that a major disadvantage faced by young Black people is that on average their parents aren’t in nearly as good a financial position as the parents of their White peers. When they start out at young adults, Black kids are less likely to get parental help buying their first house because their parents are less likely to be able to afford to help them than White parents are. The same goes for college tuition help.
Many years ago, a Black boy growing up in Denver got the opportunity to go to a top notch elementary school across town. That experience gave him a tremendous boost. As a result, he did very well. He was a chemical engineer who switched to the private equity business. He’s now worth an estimated five billion dollars. He knows the value of a boost. His name is Robert F. Smith.
The day before yesterday, Sunday, May 19, he gave the commencement address at Morehouse College, an elite HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and University) in Atlanta. The college is all male, with a graduating class of 396.
The class listened intently. He talked about some things you’d expect a commencement speaker to talk about. But then he said something his audience didn’t expect, I mean really didn’t expect, including Morehouse administrators.
”My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans.”
And he told them to help others as they went along, to pay it forward. They should be able to accumulate wealth more quickly than initially expected, and they all understand that they are expected to help others in turn.
The value of that commitment, depending on whom you ask, could be anywhere from about ten million dollars to about forty million dollars. Of course, not all the students had loans.
He gave a major boost to an elite group of young men and undoubtedly created a lot of mentors and philanthropists in one shot. The consequences of this should be seen for generations. As we know by average differences in Black and White wealth, differences have consequences for generations.
I hope he inspires other philanthropists to follow his example. Including some future philanthropists from the Morehouse Class of 2019.