Last week, Robert F. Smith joined actor Steve Harvey for a candid conversation as part of Beloved Benefit’s new series, which features national leaders to talk about race, economic mobility and building our communities in order to inspire deeper connections and spark action.
Across the conversation, there was a common thread: how can we come together as a country to support and value Black lives — especially while the country is being gripped by a global health pandemic.
In particular, Smith told Harvey that the first step is making sure the capital, the lifeblood of our economy, is getting to every community that needs it. That means that we have to listen to and partner with communities, especially African-American communities, across the country to give them the support they need. Smith said, “if you think about 150 plus years of liberation from being enslaved, our community hasn’t had access to what is the fundamental building block of America, which is capital.”
We’ve made a lot of strides in creating more equitable access to capital. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Smith once again noticed that Black people and communities were not getting a fair shake. Black businesses needed capital at scale to be able to survive the pandemic. To do this, Smith worked with Secretary Mnuchin, Ivanka Trump, Senators Schumer, Warner, Booker, Peters, Harris, Tim Scott, and more to leverage the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and other federal programs to work better for Black-owned businesses during the pandemic.
Smith says that he is hopeful and that financial institutions are gaining a level of awareness that we have not seen before, in part because the pandemic has forced people to stay at home and witness first-hand some of the horrific instances of racism and violence against Black people.
By investing in Black communities through expanding broadband access, lowering the amount of student debt Black college students are taking on and investing in Black communities with capital and infrastructure, Smith argues we can build a brighter future.