For a people constantly marginalized and dehumanized, Dr. Robert F. Smith’s gift this past Sunday to Morehouse College graduates was a victory. This one African American opened his heart to give $40 million to pay off the graduating class's entire college loan debt, allowing them to start their post-college careers unencumbered by debt and challenging them to pay it forward.
This one African American opened his heart to give $40 million to pay off the graduating class's entire college loan debt, allowing them to start their post-college careers unencumbered by debt and challenging them to pay it forward.
This philanthropic act can spur a totally new movement of self-perpetuation for our race to correct our own situations. The wealth that we process can be turned inwardly as a boon to many of the educational problems that we face. Up you mighty race! Could this be the beginning of a economic shift where the wealthy among us begin making investments in the future to accentuate the human capital of the masses of people?
Let’s look at this in the words of Smith “as a liberation move” and negate all the questioning of his motives. That is important to me because African Americans lag behind in every significant quality-of-life statistic, from employment, to wealth, to health. Yet we come from a history of love and support of each other through some of the most arduous circumstances that any race has endured in America.
During these periods, we relied on our African past’s concept of tribe to protect, empower, and survive. We were overcoming only with the help of each other. We knew to cling and depend on each other. When somebody’s mother was sold to another plantation, the child became the mother of another. This African slave plantation tribe security, more simply put , created the extended family concept. The child was taken care of by the other mothers of the tribe—not their tribe from African but the tribe they created at the plantation for systematic survival.
Up from slavery, African Americans created mutual aid societies. One was the well-known Free African Society of Philadelphia, started by the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. These societies helped Africans up from slavery that were in need of the basics for survival. They became the forerunners to banks, insurance companies, and social welfare agencies as they secured land and built institutions.
Our slave ancestors were intent on their children getting an education, because they clearly understood, as Booker Washington said, “lift the veil of ignorance”, was a way to compete and survive in America. The rise of the religious schools of higher education throughout the South is a testimony of the indomitable spirit of Black people to educate their children. There are all kinds of testimonies of how through chicken dinners, call walks, raffles, bingo, concerts, and selling of crops our people raised money for scholarships and even to keep the doors of African American colleges open. My own grandfather had a field whose crops paid my mothers tuition at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro North Carolina.
What Dr. Smith did at Morehouse College was nothing new. It was just on a much grander scale. It follows a long history of investing in the education of Blacks by Blacks. Yet it should be a renewal and rejuvenation and awakening to Black business persons, athletes and entertainers that it’s time to wake up and invest in your race. Race matters. Perhaps we lag behind as a people because we don’t give and fight for our people. That should be over now and we should be called back to who we were. “If it is to be, it is up to us”, this is just one African American man’s opinion. What’s yours?
Pastor William D. Smart Jr.
Co-Pastor Christ Liberation Ministries
President/ CEO Southern Christian Leadership Conference -Southern California
Rev. William D. Smart Jr. is the President and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Southern California. He is also Co-Pastor of the Christ Liberation Ministries in Los Angeles, where his wife serves as Senior Pastor. He recently served as Director of External Training and Outreach at the Los Angeles Alliance for A New Economy a nationally recognized nonprofit organization, where he worked for almost ten years.