Robert F. Smith, another harbinger of hope

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Sometimes when you begin to feel the world is in a losing battle, inundated with adulterated greed, self-idolatry and unapologetic apathy, there appear vestiges of hope and promise that lets you know God is still in control. That was the case when Robert F. Smith, the 2019 commencement speaker at Morehouse College’s graduation, made a monumental announcement: he was eliminating the college debt of the graduates of Morehouse’s class of 2019.

Once the shock of that resounding announcement ended, the students, staff, professors and guests, were euphoric. Some even cried, displaying disbelief in Smith’s unprecedented gift totaling an estimated $40 million. The true significance of what Robert F. Smith did is far reaching and sets a precedence of humanitarian giving by an African American. Hopefully, it will be duplicated and continued by many more wealthy Black philanthropists and donors—giving back to those representing the future of our country.

This benevolent gift is only made more significant coming from a Black man who has taken action to uplift the upward economic mobility of African American students, especially those attending one of African Americans’ most prized and honored HBCUs. It is even more appreciated when one notes the gravity of college debt that weighs like an albatross around the necks of many college grads, especially African American graduates. Many times it is a lifetime burden.

Robert Smith, along with other high profiled Black icons like Oprah Winfrey and Lebrun James, has taken ‘giving’ to an unprecedented level. Their benevolent acts of giving and manifesting their words into action tremendously affect the lives of young people, especially Africans Americans. These heaven sent philanthropic Black donors have helped aid other Blacks committed in a movement to helping establish an economic base that will help other African Americans attain middle and upper class status. I can only hope that this kind act to help relieve financial stress and bondage attributed to financial institutions is paid forward by the fortunate recipients of such generosity. Make no mistake, it is important to acknowledge and give kudos to these Black benefactors, especially when you find many of our White counterparts claiming they shouldn’t help us when we don’t help each other.

It is becoming more evident than when blessed with abundant financial resources many well to do Blacks are willing to invest in helping other Blacks attain success. All too often the media projects wealthy Blacks (especially rappers) as splurging their money in strip clubs spending thousands of dollars making it rain. They buy multitudes of gold chains and buy a myriad of expensive cars instead of working together and investing their monies to advance an economic base that will benefit people of color. As it stands now, African Americans are operating within a biased and discriminatory disadvantaged system. Institutions do not historically work in their favor.

I guess I can speak for all Black America that Robert F. Smith’s benevolent gift literally raised the bar. It will hopefully remind as well as motivate all of us that when blessed, we should pass it forward. These graduates who will not burdened with financial stress will be in an optimal position to give back to Morehouse and to help in contributing to build a Black economic base.

Robert F. Smith, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners is a self-made billionaire worth $5 billion. He is a graduate of Cornell University and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. While many may not know it, he has a history of generously giving. He has donated $50 million to Cornell University’s School of Engineering, $20 million to the National Museum of African History and Culture and is a member of The Giving Pledge—a commitment by some of the world’s wealthiest people to give a majority of their wealth back through philanthropic causes.

It is in giving that we can understand the true meaning of living. Once again, we must herald the adage ‘When much is given, much is expected.’

Thanks once again to Robert Smith, Oprah Winfrey, Lebrun James, and the many Blacks who have contributed unselfishly to promote the upward mobility of people of color. You make us all proud by leading by example. We must work together to determine our own destiny.