Black Billionaire Robert Smith Makes Historic Forty Million Dollar Pledge To Eliminate Morehouse Graduates Student Debt

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[Black Education News]
Black billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith stands with Morehouse College's 2019 graduates--whose $40 million debt he pledged to pay...
Photo: Facebook

Black billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith putting his money where his mouth is...

On Sunday, Black billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith pledged to use some of his wealth to eliminate the student debt of all of the 2019 graduates of Atlanta’s Morehouse College. Mr. Smith’s generosity—around $40 million—will wipe-out the debt of 396 students.

Smith, as the richest Black person in America, has just set a wonderful example by doing something truly praiseworthy: he decided to invest in Black youth.

Reportedly, Mr. Smith surprised everyone, including the Morehouse University administration, who were not told in advance of his donation plans. The $40 million pledge is the largest in Morehouse’s history. In January, Smith gave a $1.8 million gift toward a scholarship fund for Morehouse.

Smith made the announcement at Sunday’s graduation for Morehouse’s 2019 graduates—where he was also receiving an honorary degree.

“You want to own it, you want to drive it, and you want to pick up as many people as you can along the way,” Smith said. “On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus. This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

Reportedly, it took a few seconds for the magnitude of Smith gesture of largess to sink in before Morehouse students, and the assembled crowd, broke out in jubilant cheers. At Morehouse, an HBCU, the average annual tuition cost is $48,000.

Smith also said, “Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”

Smith’s contribution is extremely important given America’s student loan debt crisis. America’s student debt now stands at a staggering $1.5 trillion. This affects some 44.7 million borrowers. Student loans are now America’s second highest debt category, behind mortgage debt. New York represents the state with the third highest student loan debt, behind California and Texas. According to Forbes business magazine, New York, California, Texas and Florida account for 20 percent of America student debt, who collectively owe $340 billion. Smith is said to be bothered by the student debt problem, and how it adversely affects African-Americans.

Smith, born in Colorado, is the son of teachers Dr. William Robert Smith and Dr. Sylvia Myma Smith. He attended Cornel University, where he studied chemical engineering; and Colombia Business School, where he earned an MBA, with high honors. He now serves on the board of Columbia’s Business School and is a member of the Cornell Engineering College Council. Before starting his own company, Smith worked for Air Products & Chemicals, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Kraft General Foods and Goldman Sachs.

In 2000, he founded Vista Equity Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm that is involved in financing software and technology startup businesses. Vista owns more than 50 software companies and employs over 65,000 around the world. According to Forbes, Vista, has over $46 billion in assets. It is the fourth largest enterprise software company next to Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. Vista is headquartered in Austin, Texas, but has offices in Chicago and California. Smith’s net worth is estimated at $4.4 billion. In 2018, Forbes announced Smith as the richest Black person in America, topping Oprah Winfrey.

Smith is a passionate patron of the arts. In 2016, he became the first African-American to sit as chairman of the board at Carnegie Hall. He has generously supported music education programs for minority entrepreneurship programs. He’s also a board member of the Louis Armstrong House Museum—where he has helped digitize the entire remaining musical legacy of Armstrong.

He has donated millions towards cancer research for Black women and men. He has given generously to other organizations like UNCF (United Negro Scholarship Fund), Cornell University, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and National Park Foundation (NPF).

Smith has been given numerous awards for his work and philanthropy including: a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Chairman Award; Ebony Magazine’s John H. Johnson Award; a Candle in Business and Philanthropy Award, from Morehouse College; an International Medical Corps Humanitarian of the Year Award; the Reginald F. Lewis Achievement Award; the Robert Toigo Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year Award; and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Ripple of Hope Award. Besides receiving an honorary doctorate from Morehouse College, he has also received an honorary doctorate in International Affairs from American University’s School of International Service.

Smith is currently married to his second wife former Playboy model Hope Dworaczyk. They have two children. Smith has three other children from his first wife, Suzanne McFayden Smith.

Smith’s generosity to Morehouse College students can’t be lauded enough. As the richest Black person in America, his example may well inspire other wealthy Black Americans to invest more in their people. It is uplifting to see a financially successful Black man commit himself to helping out other Black people.

Robert Smith’s words here should inspire all of Black America to help one another. He said it best when he told Morehouse “we are enough to take care of our own community. We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”

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