The ongoing protests over police brutality and racial injustice have inspired the biggest donations in history to two private Atlanta historically black colleges and to a national organization that helps black students attend college.
The $120 million contribution from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his wife, philanthropist Patty Quillin, is being divided equally among Spelman and Morehouse colleges and the United Negro College Fund. It is the largest individual gift ever given toward scholarships for historically black colleges and universities.
The couple asked that the funding be used to give at least 400 incoming students over the next decade — 20 a year at each school — full-ride scholarships.
“They simply hope this inspires other high net worth individuals to turn to HBCUs,” Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell said.
A former dean at New York University, she said she found a “stark” difference in the ability to attract attention from wealthy donors there versus at a predominantly black college, a view confirmed by Morehouse President David A. Thomas.
“The vast majority of capital in this country is in the white community, and it flows to predominantly white institutions,” he said.
Hastings said in an interview with “CBS This Morning” Wednesday that he and his wife originally planned to donate $20 million to each of the colleges but decided to double it as protests raged across the country.
“As wonderful as this gift is, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the need,” he said.
The gifts grew out of a much smaller commitment a decade ago — a single annual contribution of $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund run by Michael L. Lomax.
At that point, Hastings and Lomax had been serving together for several years on the board of KIPP Public Charter Schools. The schools strive to prepare students from educationally underserved communities for college, but many of the students found they could not afford a historically black college or university.
The couple decided they wanted to do more, and Lomax, who lives in Atlanta, arranged a tour of the Atlanta campuses last year. After visiting Spelman and Morehouse, Hastings and Quillin decided to give $1 million a year to each of them and to Lomax’s organization.
Then, George Floyd died and everything changed. The second $1 million installment had already been paid when, on June 7, the couple sent Lomax an email saying they had decided to give $20 million to each college and to the UNCF. Two days later, Lomax awoke at 3 a.m. to another email, from Quillin: The couple wanted to double the amount.
Lomax said the money is already stirring interest from other donors. “I’m so excited by what Patti and Reed have done because they’ve set the bar so high,” he said, adding that they have been deeply troubled by the news about police brutality. The couple declined to have the scholarships in their names, preferring that they be used “to symbolize great black achievement through the HBCUs.”
Though the size of the contribution is large for a black college, it is small relative to the support some other colleges see.
Last year, Emory University, Georgia’s largest private university, received $65 million for a third school of public health building from the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation. The year before that, the school got its largest gift ever from another local source when Atlanta’s Robert W. Woodruff Foundation gave $400 million for medical research.
That one contribution was more than double Morehouse’s current endowment of around $160 million.
Thomas said black colleges are relatively underfunded despite their academic contributions.
“We’ve done as much as any small liberal arts college in the country, and most of those colleges have 10 times the endowment that Morehouse has,” he said.
Graduates of nearby Clark Atlanta University wondered on social media Wednesday why their alma mater was not included in this latest gift, especially given that filmmaker and Morehouse graduate Spike Lee studied his craft at Clark Atlanta as did “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, and both have content on Netflix.
“Giving in general just seems to go to two or three institutions,” Jamal Coleman, who graduated from Clark Atlanta in 1995, said referring to Spelman, Morehouse and Howard University. The entertainment industry executive said his wife, a fellow Clark Atlanta graduate, knows Barris from college and they remain friends. Coleman said he appreciates that Quillin and Hastings acknowledged the importance of black colleges and universities, “but it’s also important to dig a little bit deeper than what’s known on the surface.”
Clark Atlanta was actually in the running for money but suffered from unfortunate timing. It was between presidents when Quillin and Hastings visited Atlanta, and the couple wanted to meet the school leaders before committing their money. They had planned a return to visit new President George T. French, Jr. this spring, but COVID-19 prevented it.
Lomax, a Morehouse graduate and former chairman of the Fulton County Commission, said he’s committed to finding “transformational” donations for both Clark Atlanta and the nearby Interdenominational Theological Center. He said he wants to do this for all of the roughly three dozen colleges and universities that his organization supports.
Spelman and Morehouse have benefited from other large donations recently.
In 2018, corporate director Ronda Stryker and her husband, William Johnston, gave $30 million to Spelman, the largest gift to the school at that point.
Last year, Oprah Winfrey gave $13 million for scholarships to Morehouse, doubling down on her $12 million gift three decades earlier, for a total of $25 million.
Also last year, billionaire Robert F. Smith told graduating Morehouse seniors that his family was providing a grant to eliminate the student debt of all 396 students in the class of 2019. The amount totaled about $34 million.
How the money will be used:
The $40 million for each college will be used for full scholarships for 20 new students at each college per year over 10 years.
Spelman is naming its scholarship after alumna Dovey Johnson Roundtree, a 1938 graduate who was an inaugural member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and then a groundbreaking civil rights lawyer. Among her several major victories was one that secured a landmark ban on racial segregation in interstate bus travel. She died in 2018 at 104.
Morehouse is folding its money into a preexisting scholarship named after United Negro College Fund CEO Michael L. Lomax, a Morehouse graduate who once taught literature at the college (as well as at Spelman) and was the first black chairman of the Fulton County Commission.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.