Recently, The Walmart Foundation committed $1 million to Student Freedom Initiative as part of a plan to donate $100 million over the next five years through the Walmart.org Center for Racial Equity to help address racial disparities in the United States. This gift was included in the first round of donations announced earlier this year. The Foundation’s first round of giving totaled $14.3 million and was spread out over 16 different organizations.
Student Freedom Initiative offers flexible, lower-risk alternatives to high-interest private student loans to college seniors and juniors studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) at its first cohort of 11 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The program also provides all undergraduates at participating schools opportunities for paid internships, mentoring, tutoring and unique capacity building for schools (such as corporate donations of technology and accessibility infrastructure). Student Freedom Initiative was initially funded by a gift of $50 million from philanthropist Robert F. Smith, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, and a $50 million gift from the Fund II Foundation — a charitable organization of which Smith is the founding director and President.
Grocery Stores Taking Action to Promote Racial Equity
As the largest grocery store in the United States, Walmart is one very visible grocer taking action to address social injustice in 2021, but it’s not alone. . The Kroger Co., the country’s second-largest grocery chain, pledged $3 million to improve racial equity. Costco has committed $25 million to the Black Economic Development Fund, an impact investment fund dedicated to closing the racial wealth gap. Giant Food committed to redesigning labels to highlight women and minority-owned brands in stores and online. And corporations including Target created numerous programs designed to increase the representation of Black team members across the company by 20% over three years.
These types of corporate actions are a great start to addressing issues of representation, food scarcity and employment opportunities — but the efforts shouldn’t end there. Many households in primarily Black neighborhoods experience food insecurity. According to the nonprofit Feeding America, in 2020 24% of Black Americans experienced food insecurity. Eliminating food insecurity is a priority for Robert F. Smith. Last year, he teamed up with Fair Count Inc. to distribute $150 supermarket gift cards to in-need families in 33 cities and towns across Georgia for the holidays, but there’s much more work to be done to impact more families in neighborhoods across the country.
Getting Involved in the Work Toward Justice
Last year, Robert F. Smith called on corporations to use 2% of their annual net income to begin reversing racial inequalities. Many large corporations, like Netflix, followed suit. Smith points out that 2 cents for every dollar is enough to invest heavily in Black businesses. Public figures like Bill Bynum agree that this type of major investment is an important guide for making real change.
In addition to The 2% Solution, Robert F. Smith is also a leading advocate for the Southern Communities Initiative, which catalyzes racial equity funding, programming and convening organizations in six southern cities and their surrounding communities that are home to more than half of allAfrican Americans. The aim of the Initiative is to work together with corporations, community liaisons and local organizations to make lasting change in these communities through investment in the people who live and work there. Their work is just beginning, but with over 90 partner corporations on board, the energy behind the initiative is building.
As leaders like Robert F. Smith continue to share their ideas about closing the racial wealth gap and promoting racial justice in our society, it is up to corporations to act. Where would you choose to put your energy, if you could make a real change?
Watch REFORM Alliance CEO and CNN Host Van Jones’ op-ed about how we can help eliminate racial health inequalities.