Philanthropist Robert F. Smith pledged to alleviate the student loan debt of Morehouse College’s spring 2019 graduates.


HBCU Giving: Every Dollar Helps

Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Well, billionaire philanthropist Robert F. Smith answered King’s call and then some by pledging to pay off outstanding student loans for approximately 400 Morehouse College Spring 2019 graduates.

Estimates show that the act of philanthropy will amount to around $40 million.

Smith’s selfless act to help approximately 400 graduates of the all-male historically Black college in Atlanta had the staff thinking about some of the biggest financial gifts to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Sure, Smith’s gift ranks as the largest gift to one particular HBCU.

However, philanthropists, Black and White, have long given to HBCUs in need.

Giving to HBCUs is often more crucial than giving to historically White colleges and universities because HBCUs often do not have large endowments to fund programs or wealthy alumni to give millions of dollars to their alma mater like Ivy League schools and large flagship state colleges.

Furthermore, alumni giving at HBCUs does not match predominantly White institutions because of the need of many minority students to take out high interest loans, discrimination in the hiring process at many companies and jobs that do not provide a large income.

So, when people like Smith give back to schools like Morehouse it possibly inspires more giving and support to HBCUs.

Furthermore, it could challenge other billionaire and millionaire Black Americans to support the only institutions that would accept and support Black Americans for many decades.

Therefore, would like to highlight some of the most important donations to HBCUs and potentially that will encourage more philanthropy in the Black community, whether large or small.

Bill and Camille Cosby—In 1988, Bill and Camille Cosby donated $20 million to Spelman College in Atlanta. Two of the Cosby daughters attended Spelman. The $20 million gift from the Cosbys helped fund an academic center with state-of the-art classrooms, labs, a fine arts museum and an endowed professorship. Unfortunately, after Cosby’s rape charges and convictions, Spelman ended their association with the famous comedian and returned the $20 million donation. The Cosbys also donated $1.3 million to Fisk University in Nashville in 1984 after finding out the school faced financial trouble.

Ronda Stryker and William Johnston—In 2018, Ronda Stryker and William Johnston gifted Spelman College with a $30 million donation to support a new Center for Innovation & The Arts. Stryker said, “Spelman alumnae are leaders across every field imaginable, breaking new ground, while tackling some of the world’s most challenging issues from health disparities to the digital divide. We are thrilled to support a building that will encourage students to master technology, innovation and the arts. Stryker has served as a Spelman trustee since 1997. Stryker serves as director of Stryker Corp., a medical equipment company. Her husband, Johnston, chairs the investment bank, Greenleaf Trust.

Tom Joyner Foundation—Very few HBCU alumni have shown as much dedication to preserving HBCUs as radio legend Tom Joyner. Through the Tom Joyner Foundation, the “fly jock” has raised more than $55 million for various HBCUs as of 2011. The Tuskegee University graduate has given countless scholarships to deserving HBCU students throughout the years. Furthermore, Joyner became one of the leading voices trying to keep all-female Bennett College in Greensboro, N.C. fully accredited.

Tina and Calvin E. Tyler, Jr.—UPS senior executive Calvin E. Tyler, Jr. and his wife Tina donated $5 million in 2016 to Morgan State University in Baltimore for an endowed scholarship. The scholarships will go to incoming freshman from Baltimore with at least 2.5 grade point averages that “show signs of grit and promise.” Furthermore, the Tylers have made various donations to Morgan State for $500,000 and $1 million for endowed scholarships since 2002. The new scholarships will be renewable for four years of college and will fund 10 scholarships initially with plans to grow to honor more students.

Alfred Street Baptist Church—Who said a person or group had to be wealthy to help out or give back? If someone ever said that then the pastor and parishioners at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va. never got the memo. The church cleared the debt of 34 Howard University students in Washington, D.C. in February. More than 4,000 parish members contributed to the fundraising effort for Howard University, which raised $100,000 to pay off student loans for those 34 Howard students. The congregation also gave $50,000 to Bennett College when the HBCU needed to raise $5 million to keep its accreditation, which it did.

Ford Foundation—In a two-year span in the 1960s, the Ford Foundation gave $50 million to 26 different Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Edsel Ford and Henry Ford started the Ford Foundation in 1936 to advance human welfare. In 2014, the Ford Foundation had over $12 billion in reported assets and had approved over $500 million in grants.

Walton Family Foundation—In 2018, the Walton Family Foundation gifted Spelman College with a $5.4 million donation to create the Atlanta University Center Collective for the Study of Art History and Curatorial Studies. Through the new collective and scholarships provided to Morehouse College and Clark University students via the Walton Family Foundation, an Art History major and Curatorial Studies minor will be created to increase diversity in the art museum industry.

Oprah Winfrey—Philanthropy and Oprah Winfrey go hand-in-hand. The media mogul has funded schools, sent students to college and given back in every conceivable way. Therefore, it is no surprise that a product of an HBCU (Tennessee State University) has given back to HBCUs throughout her illustrious career. In 1995, Winfrey gave $1 million to Spelman College and she has donated to Morehouse College several times, totaling over $12 million in donations.

Kenya and Rainbow Barris—Television show creator Kenya Barris (“Black-ish) does more than just create dialogue on Black issues with his sitcoms and movies. He and his wife Rainbow Barris give back to their community, including their alma mater Clark Atlanta University. The two both graduated from Clark Atlanta in 1996 and donated $1 million in scholarships to Clark students. The Kenya and Rainbow Barris Annual Scholarship will go equally to mass media arts majors and biology majors.

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