Thank you, Robert Smith and family, for committing to pay off the student loans for the Morehouse College class of 2019. What an extraordinary gift that will make an incredible impact on the lives of graduates, their families, and the African American community for years to come. Like so many others, our jaws dropped in amazement when we heard the news! What a wonderful way to place Black philanthropy front and center. African Americans are not only the recipients of philanthropy – we are philanthropists. Tell’em Robert Smith proved the point.
But he’s not alone. Generations of Black individuals, families, churches, sororities and fraternities, and civic organizations are philanthropists. Hundred dollar gifts and million dollar gifts are part of our legacy. Black giving circles, donor advised funds, and foundations change Black lives. Their giving and impact may not be visible in the national media, but it is real.
The impact of Black philanthropy is felt across the country every day – at kitchen tables, in living rooms, and dorm rooms. Parents, grandparents, guardians, and their children know the impact of receiving a scholarship. They also know that one or two scholarships is not enough. Too many low income and mid income Black students scramble to secure enough scholarship money to cover the “gap” – the difference between the cost of college, and the grants and family contributions they can pull together. Otherwise, it’s student loans.
The burden of these loans is borne in neighborhoods across the country as college students, graduates, and those who had to “stop out” or “drop out” struggle to make payments. Young African Americans are burdened by student loans at a higher rate than White graduates, and this will impact them throughout their lives. Employment choices are made with salary as the primary driver. Graduates pass up opportunities in community and government service for career paths that begin with higher starting salaries and greater earning potential.
As a community we are robbed of our growth and potential. Unsustainable student loan debt decreases giving to our colleges, universities, churches, and nonprofits. It influences consumer behavior, delaying the purchase of a home and the asset/wealth accumulation that can accompany homeownership. Savings and investment are also delayed, decreasing future assets and increasing our growing inequality. Student debt changes what it means to be middle class.
But there is something that we can do individually, and most importantly collectively. We can build on our history of raising funds for college scholarships and embrace students throughout their college career. Here’s the idea: before awarding a scholarship, think “can we sustain this gift over the life of this student’s college career?” Plan as a group to support a student through graduation. Form a foundation, work through a community foundation or women’s foundation, or develop a giving circle. Set a financial goal of providing “gap funding” through graduation for students in your community.
It is one thing to be accepted in college. It is quite another to secure the financial resources it takes to complete a degree. We – collectively – can make a difference. We too are the Smith family.
Copyright 2019 – Mel and Pearl Shaw