Robert F. Smith was recently awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Prize during the annual A. Leon Higginbotham Awards Dinner hosted by the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The Higginbotham Dinner is one of the largest gala events in the civil rights community and brings together nearly 1,000 journalists, advocates and activists annually.
Smith was honored along with UPS Executive Chairman David Abney, Congresswoman Karen Bass, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Attorney Benjamin Crump and New York Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones.
During his acceptance speech, Smith spoke about how his own personal history intertwined with the civil rights movement — his mother carried him as a baby to the famed March on Washington in 1963. He spoke of leaders in the civil rights movement and wove their stories back to today, where disparities still exist.
“We need to reverse economic policies that have been baked into our system and have created racism in this country for decades. The public and private sectors need to begin investing in communities of color that are systemically starved of resources,” said Smith during his speech. “The largess of the federal government’s response to corporate bailouts during the pandemic needs to start finding its way to the small businesses that are the backbone of the minority communities.”
Smith is a leading voice in advocating for policies that close racial gaps in every aspect of life. In July 2020, he announced a partnership with the Prostate Cancer Foundation to develop better screening methods to detect prostate cancer, a disease that disproportionately impacts Black men. He also recently called on large corporations to use 2% of their annual net income for the next decade to empower minority-owned businesses and communities. And amid global shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, he helped thousands of Black-owned businesses that were shut out of PPP loans due to historical racism to secure new loans to stay operational.
Watch the entire virtual 2020 Higginbotham Award event here.