COMMENT: Black America salutes CEO Robert F. Smith for accelerating racial justice and spirit of giving


from dr Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

Today we are seeing a growing spirit of giving to help underserved communities across the United States. The Black Press of America recognizes and takes public notice of both the responsibilities and opportunities for business leaders to “keep your sisters and brothers.” Good corporate social responsibility counts.

This is especially true for communities of color who remain mired in poverty and insufficient access to transformative economic opportunities for improvement. One of the key indicators of economic progress and sustainability in today’s global marketplace is the extent to which effective community-based organizations have access to equity finance and high-tech innovation.

With 2021 behind us and now preparations and commitments made for 2022, we look back at the progress made by a leading African American entrepreneur and business leader, Robert F. Smith, who is helping to increase racial justice funding and to bridge the digital divide in six Southern cities that now have large percentages of African Americans: Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Houston, New Orleans and Charlotte.

Earlier last year, we highlighted the groundbreaking initiative that , along with PayPal CEO Dan Schulman and BCG CEO Rich Lesser, launched called the Southern Communities Initiative. This initiative is “a catalytic effort to coordinate and accelerate the funding, programming and convening of racial justice organizations in six Southern communities home to approximately 50% of the African American population.”

According to information recently released on Smith’s dedicated website, we were pleased to learn that the Southern Communities Initiative has already identified, accepted and activated the following local leadership appointments and activations in these six states.

There are four pillars of racial justice for the initiative: Wealth Creation – Supporting black-owned business growth and access to capital; casing – Providing access to resources that enable home ownership at fair prices and conditions; Education / Human Resource Development – Creation of opportunities for advancement through formal education/skills for minorities; and Health Justice – Eliminate health inequalities through equal access to quality and affordable healthcare.

There are also two racial justice enablers who are part of the initiative: digital access – Providing access and uptake of affordable high-speed internet solutions for low-income and minority households; and physical infrastructure – Providing access to affordable, reliable real estate and civic infrastructure to support minority families and businesses.

In each of the six states there is a well-known community servant and leader who has been named the Southern Communities Initiative “community leader.” In Atlanta, Reverend Dr. Bernice King, Chief Executive Officer at The King Center, in charge. Leading in Houston is LaTanya Flix, senior vice president, DEI at Greater Houston Partnership. In Memphis, there’s Sarah Lockridge-Steckel, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of The Collective Blueprint, while Janet LaBar, President and CEO of Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, is taking the lead in Charlotte, NC. In Birmingham it is led by JW Carpenter, Executive Director at Prosper Birmingham, and in New Orleans it is Judy Morse, President and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana.

Robert F. Smith’s philanthropy and leadership is appreciated by numerous recipients, and Smith should be applauded for helping make a difference and bringing hope to millions of people in underserved communities. The issues of economic justice and racial justice are still crucial to the nation’s future.

Still, the contributions of Smith and others appear to be gaining support, with more than 70 major corporations supporting the Southern Communities Initiative to date.

The truth is that without the reality of sustained racial justice and the economic advancement of communities of color, there can be no true racial justice. We therefore have no hesitation in greeting Robert F. Smith.

dr Benjamin F, Chavis, Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and executive producer/host of The Chavis Chronicles on PBS television networks in the United States. He can be reached at [email protected]


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