I know on yesterday’s show you all already talked about what happened at Morehouse’s graduation on Sunday, but as a Morehouse grad, I just wanted to come at it from a personal angle for a moment this morning.
On this past Sunday, Robert F. Smith, one of the most successful investors in the world and the richest Black man in America, was the commencement speaker at Morehouse College. My time there as a student and as a leader changed my life. It’s literally the only university for Black men in the entire world. We brag because brilliant Black men like Martin Luther King and Spike Lee graduated from Morehouse, but it has produced thousands of Black teachers and doctors and lawyers and businessmen and activists and leaders that now do good work all over the world. There’s no place like it.
As a student there, you could go years and years without experiencing racism. It’s an incubator – a cocoon that allows you to grow. It’s free of police brutality and the systems and structures of mass incarceration. It’s not perfect, but it was a refuge for me and has been a refuge for tens of thousands of other young Black men since 1867. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t know if you’d even know me now had I not attended there – it’s where I became a leader, where I became a speaker, where my painful wounds from my childhood began to heal.
I was just excited for students to be able to hear from Robert F. Smith. Quietly, he’s one of the most generous men in the country – and he cares deeply about civil rights and human rights and justice. He’s told me so himself, but I know what he does behind the scenes. And so I was excited that students would get to hear from him. I was excited that he’d be receiving an honorary degree from the college, but what he did on Sunday, announcing that his family foundation is going to pay off all of the student loan debt of every graduating senior, will change their lives forever.
Nobody in the audience, including the college President and staff, had any idea this moment was coming.
And just like that, Robert Smith canceled $40 million in student loan debt for those graduates of Morehouse College. They will walk into what’s next with little to no debt.
And I had a chance to talk with Robert on Sunday and he said what he wants to measure and prove is how having no student loan debt impacts these students, and their outcomes, and their performance, not just up against other Morehouse students, but just in society in general.
And that’s a perfect place for me to break down the student loan crisis in this country.
Because right now, Americans have over $1.6 trillion dollars in student loan debt. That number is about a year old and some say we’re about to cross $2 trillion dollars in student loan debt. That’s more than any nation in the world. In fact, dozens of developed countries around the world don’t even have student loans because college is paid for by the government. Hundreds of thousands of borrowers currently have payments that are past due. Estimates are that 10 million American student loan borrowers are currently in default. And as a result they can’t buy a home and even struggle to rent one because of the impact it has on your credit.
Just 15 years ago the number was $400 billion. Right now we’re at nearly $2 trillion dollars in national student loan debt. It’s quadrupled in just 15 years. I’m too embarrassed to even say out loud how much student loan debt my wife and I have. It’s outrageous.
And of course, student loan debt impacts students of color as well students who come from low income and even middle income families the most. 90% of African American students require student loans to attend college – frequently taking out the entire amount of tuition, room, and board to attend. For white students, that number plummets to 58% that even require student loans to attend college. And even that 58% is taking out a drastically smaller amount of loans than their Black peers.
So when Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders announce massive plans to make public education completely tuition free and to tax the super-rich to eliminate the majority of student loan debt, I’m paying attention – not just because that includes me, but because it includes the majority of our listeners as well.
I’ll close with this thought.
Eliminating and forgiving student loan debt is not a Black idea, it’s not reparations, but it helps Black and Latino students and graduates more than it does anybody else. And it’s these types of smart plans that we need to support.
Not just from presidential candidates, but we need to begin demanding that corporations have student loan forgiveness programs for their employees. States need to have student loan forgiveness programs for people who pledge to stay and work in that state. We need a student loan forgiveness bonanza in this nation because it’s going to take every bit of that – plus a massive federal plan to reverse the trend. It’s absolutely out of control.