Social and criminal justice reform have been central to American conversations for decades, but they seemed to come to a head over two years ago with the murder of George Floyd.
At the time, Robert F. Smith spoke out on the tragic situation in a letter to Vista Equity Partners employees:
“When I see the face of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, or Christian Cooper, I see myself as a young man; I see the faces of my children; and I am reminded of the many times in my life when I have been judged not by my character, but by my skin color.
This has been a heartbreaking and painful week for America and a reminder that in our endless pursuit of a ‘more perfect union,’ a great deal of work remains.”
Work that Smith had already been doing to achieve a more equitable society became more important, and in response he ramped up his efforts.
He proposed The 2% Solution in June of 2020, a holistic plan to divert capital from the nation’s largest companies into African American communities that have been historically devoid of the level of opportunity present in other parts of the country.
By committing 2% of earnings, large companies hold the power to expand broadband access to underserved communities, fund Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) to promote entrepreneurship, expand quality healthcare options and support public schools in these areas.
In addition, Smith established the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI) which focuses on providing racial equity funding, programs and results tracking in six predominantly African American areas of the country. Those communities are:
- Atlanta, Georgia
- Birmingham, Alabama
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Houston, Texas
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Greater New Orleans, Louisiana
These communities account for over half of the African American population in the U.S. At this time, SCI works with more than 90 partner organizations to get these communities capital that goes towards entrepreneurship opportunities, establishing branch banks, education, job training and providing affordable internet access.
“It’s not enough to simply announce funding for racial equity; we need to enable the infrastructure that channels capital into the hands of African Americans who will use it to build businesses and create jobs, educate our children, and deliver medical care to our communities,” said Smith in an op-ed for Quartz.
Reform Organizations Robert F. Smith Works With
Going beyond the initiatives he has proposed and established, Smith works with multiple organizations that aim to create a more racially equitable society — focussing on social causes as well as criminal justice reform.
As a Founding Partner, Smith joined philanthropists, CEOs, and entertainers including Jay-Z and Meek Mill in establishing REFORM Alliance. The organization focuses on transforming the probation and parole systems through logical solutions, bringing together leaders and experts to make an impact. A key goal for REFORM is to break the supervision-to-prison pipeline — keeping people who get their freedom back, free.
National Action Network
Founded by Reverend Al Sharpton, the National Action Network (NAN) is recognized as one of the leading civil rights organizations in the country, working on a number of fronts to achieve racial equity — including police reform, voting rights and more.
Smith has partnered with NAN on multiple occasions, one of which he and World Central Kitchen supported the organization’s “Operation Feed Harlem.” The initiative provided nearly one million meals to the community in just under three months. Smith has also been recognized for his civil rights efforts as honoree during two 2018 NAN events.
The United Justice Coalition
To continue his mission of impacting individuals and communities of color, Smith is now partnering with the United Justice Coalition (UJC) — an organization focused on rooting out systemic injustices and bringing back a sense of unification to the country.
UJC has created an advisory board of experts from across disciplines, from media personalities to attorneys and University leaders. Some of the notable individuals include Charlamagne Tha God, Van Jones, Gayle King, Josh Dubin and Michael Eric Dyson.
The organization will be hosting its inaugural social justice convention, the “UJC Summit,” on Saturday July 23rd. The event will feature expert speakers and presenters focusing on police violence, laws and policies, voter registration and more.
“Our goal for this summit is to spark discussion and collaboration and take a solution-oriented approach to reforming America’s antiquated policies,” said Roc Nation and UJC founding member Dania Diaz in a press release. “At the end of the day, we are all bonded by one common goal – to eradicate injustice.”