HBCUs are doing important work. Along with preparing students to succeed in a world that greatly needs their perspectives, historically black colleges and universities are testaments to African American achievement and activism. They create an important space for students to see their potential through the lens of other successful African Americans, learn their history, and continue the fight for civil rights, equality, and Black liberation.
In light of schools like Bennett College for Women recently at risk of losing their accreditation, investing in Black education is more important now than ever before. Here are seven Black philanthropists who are using their finances for good and paying it forward in the name of education.
Robert F. Smith
On commencement day in 2019, the world’s richest Black man stood before the graduating class at Morehouse College and did an honorable thing. He vowed to pay off the student loan debt of everyone receiving a degree that day, thus shifting the course of those young Black men’s lives forever. The totality of his generosity is somewhere between $20 million to $40 million.
Over the course of her career, media mogul Oprah Winfrey has never been shy about her philanthropic efforts to invest in the education in young children of color. Just to Morehouse College alone, the 65-year-old has paid scholarships to put over 400 men through the HBCU. Winfrey has also extended her investment into education for young girls in South Africa.
As North Carolina’s Bennett College fought to maintain their accreditation in early 2019, Kwanza Jones stepped up in a major way to help the institution with a $1 million donation. Jones, the founder and CEO of SUPERCHARGED, a global lifestyle and personal development brand, made the #IStandWithBennett campaign donation in honor of #BlackGirlMagic on behalf of her mother and aunt, both of whom graduated from the college in the ‘60s. With the $1 million donation, Jones along with her husband, José E. Feliciano, made the single largest grant to Bennett in the school’s history.
Black-ish creator Kenya Barris may be Los Angeles born and raised, but the writer and producer has never forgotten the college that made him. In 2018, Barris and his wife, Dr. Rainbow Edwards-Barris, gave the largest alumni gift ever to their alma mater Clark Atlanta University for a total of $1 million. The couple made the donation with half of the monetary efforts going to support mass media arts majors, with the remaining going to benefit students who major in biology.
Radio disc jockey Tom Joyner has spent his career devoted to helping students at HBCUs. During his five-decade-long career in radio, the Alabama native has helped raise and donate more than $60 million to the likes of Tuskegee University, Howard University, Hampton University and more HBCUs across the country.
Mrs. Carter may run the world, and that includes giving back as well. With the development of her Formation Scholars, which supports four different schools including Berklee College of Music, Howard University, Parsons School of Design, and Spelman College. Four scholarships go to Black women attending one of the schools who are pursuing studies in creative arts, music, literature, or African-American studies.
Following his moving performance as Melvin B. Tolson in the 2007 film, The Great Debaters, the Academy award-winning actor is still giving back to the institution where his movie character once worked. In 2007, Washington donated $1 million to Wiley College for the school to re-establish its debate program, which became defunct in the 1990s and was the basis for the blockbuster. More than a decade after his initial donation, the 64-year-old renewed his pledge with another $1 million in 2018 to continue the funding and support of the Wiley College debate club.