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Billionaire Pledges to Pay Loan Debt of This Year’s Morehouse College Graduates

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  • Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith promised to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 graduates at Morehouse College, an all-male historically black school in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Though the exact amount of the class’ debt is still being calculated, the gift is expected to be around $40 million.
  • This is just one of Smith’s major donations in recent years.

A Generous Gift

Billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith said he will pay off the student debt for all graduates in Morehouse College’s class of 2019.

Smith announced the news on Sunday while delivering the commencement address at the all-male historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.

“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” he said. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

His announcement shocked the nearly 400 graduates, who reacted with cheers and applause.

One graduating student named Aaron Mitchom told the Associated Press that he had drawn up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay off his $200,000 in student debt. According to his math, it would take him about 25 years.

“I can delete that spreadsheet,” he told the AP after the commencement. “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”

Brandon Manor, another graduate, told the New York Times, “Now all of a sudden, I can look at schools I might not have considered, because I am not applying with about $100,000 in undergraduate loans.”

Who is Robert F. Smith?

Smith, the founder and CEO of the private equity firm Vista Equity Partners, is worth an estimated $5 billion and is the richest black man in America, according to Forbes.

The 56-year-old who originally hails from Colorado but now lives in Austin went to Cornell for his undergraduate degree and earned a B.S. in chemical engineering. Afterward, Smith earned his MBA from Columbia Business School.

He went on to work for several companies like Kraft General Foods and then Goldman Sachs, advising companies like Apple and Microsoft before founding his own investment firm.

What does this gift mean?

Smith’s pledge stunned administrators, who called it the largest single gift in the school’s history. The donation also comes at a time where student loan debt has soared to roughly $1.5 trillion, according to recent Federal Reserve data.

Morehouse President David A. Thomas called the gesture “a liberation gift,” telling CNN, “When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained.”

“(Smith’s gift) gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”

According to Thomas, the total amount of student debt for the class is still being calculated but the Associated Press estimated that the gift is worth about $40 million.

In return, Smith says he expects the graduating class to pay it forward to give future classes the same opportunity one day.

“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” he said.

“We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”

Other Major Donations

The billionaire tech executive has managed to stay under the radar for much of his career. While this major donation has thrust him into the spotlight, it is far from his first generous gift.

In 2016, he pledged a $20 million gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. That same year, he donated $50 million to Cornell University to go towards its chemical and biomolecular engineering school, and to support black and female engineering students.

In 2017, Smith signed The Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world’s richest people – including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet – who have promises to giving most of their wealth to philanthropy. In 2018, he gave $2.5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to focus on research and care for African-American men and veterans with prostate cancer.

Before Sunday’s graduation speech, Smith had already donated $1.5 million to Morehouse for scholarships and a new park.

See what others are saying (The New York  Times) (Forbes) (Time)


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Journalists Say Northwestern School Paper Should Not Have Apologized for Protest Coverage

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  • A Northwestern student paper apologized after activists critiqued it for covering a public protest.
  • Critics specifically focused on a reporter who tweeted photos from the protest, and other reporters using the school’s directory to contact sources.
  • Several outlets and journalists have spoken up saying student reporters should not have apologized for doing their jobs, as they were just doing what was required to cover the protest.
  • The Dean of Northwestern’s Journalism School has also defended the student reporters, saying they were following ethical standards and should not have to apologize for that.

Northwestern Paper Publishes Apology

Reporters are speaking out after a Northwestern University student newspaper apologized for how it covered a recent public protest. 

When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke at the school’s campus on November 5, The Daily Northwestern sent reporters to cover his speech, as well as the protests surrounding it.

According to The New York Times, protesters were pushing through the back of the building. Police tried to stop them from entering but ultimately failed. This series of events was documented by one of the reporters, Colin Boyle, who is a photographer for The Daily. 

Some of the activists attending the protest disagreed with the paper’s coverage of the events, particularly the photography. Boyle posted his photos to Twitter in a move some found to be inappropriate. One student depicted in the photos referred to it as “trauma porn.”

After facing this backlash from protesters, The Daily published an editorial on Sunday largely apologizing for their coverage. 

“We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward,” the piece, signed by eight editors said. 

They also noted that some saw the photos taken to be “retraumatizing and invasive.”

“Those photos have since been taken down,” the editorial continued. “On one hand, as the paper of record for Northwestern, we want to ensure students, administrators and alumni understand the gravity of the events that took place Tuesday night. However, we decided to prioritize the trust and safety of students who were photographed.”

The piece also addressed student reporters using the student directory to contact sources for the article. They said they would no longer continue this practice because it is an “invasion of privacy” and promised to find a new way to reach out to sources. 

“Going forward, we are working on setting guidelines for source outreach, social media and covering marginalized groups,” the piece said.

Reporters Speak Out

This editorial ended up getting attention on both a local and national level. News outlets and journalists alike made comments saying that the student paper should not have published this piece because the student journalists were just doing their job.

“The Daily is apologizing for posting photographs of protesters at a public demonstration. In what world is that “invasive?” the Chicago Sun-Timeseditorial board said. “The real concern, for anybody who cares about the state of our free society, should be quite the opposite. The real concern should be the frequent efforts by government to keep journalists and protesters far apart to tamp down voices of dissent.”

They also defended students using the directory as a method to contact sources. 

“Requesting an interview, via text or any other polite means, is not an ‘invasion of privacy.’ Not even in the world of campus safe spaces,” the piece continued. “It’s a request for an interview, to which anybody can say no.”

Guy Benson, a Fox News contributor who got his degree from Northwestern spoke about the piece on a Wednesday segment of Fox and Friends. 

“It was sort of grovelingly apologetic for doing the sin of journalism,” he said. “They committed journalism by asking questions of students, contacting students for comment, publishing on the record quotes from people, and taking photographs of a public protest from a public event. And that is all just totally proper.” 

A Huffington Post news editor, Saba Hamedy, approached the situation from a sympathetic angle, calling it a learning opportunity.

Dean Responds

The Dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Charles Whitaker, published a statement of his own, defending the student’s right to report on the world around them and condemning others for pressuring them into apologizing for doing so.

“The coverage by The Daily Northwestern of the protests stemming from the recent appearance on campus by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in no way beyond the bounds of fair, responsible journalism,” he wrote. “I am deeply troubled by the vicious bullying and badgering that the students responsible for that coverage have endured for the ‘sin’ of doing journalism.”

“It is naïve, not to mention wrong-headed, to declare, as many of our student activists have, that The Daily staff and other student journalists had somehow violated the personal space of the protestors by reporting on the proceedings, which were conducted in the open and were designed, ostensibly, to garner attention,” he continued.

As for The Daily’s editorial itself, he called it “heartfelt, though not well-considered.” 

“I understand why The Daily editors felt the need to issue their mea culpa. They were beat into submission by the vitriol and relentless public shaming they have been subjected to since the Sessions stories appeared,” he said. “I think it is a testament to their sensitivity and sense of community responsibility that they convinced themselves that an apology would effect a measure of community healing.”

The Other Side of the Aisle

Though, not everyone thought the apology was out of line. Some did think The Daily needed to address what happened. 

One student said this showed that journalists often “don’t care about people, they care about stories and headlines.”

Reporter Karen Kho pointed out that many reporters were getting upset about this industry-related situation, but don’t speak as much about other problems in the field of journalism, “such the lack of diversity in their newsrooms, declines in public trust, or how reporting can further hurt underrepresented communities.”

Others also pointed out the school’s history when it comes to protests.

What the Students Involved Are Saying

Some of the student journalists involved in the story also spoke about the events. 

Troy Closson, the paper’s editor in chief, published a Twitter thread partially justifying the editorial but also acknowledging over-correction.

He added that balancing this role with the knowledge that the paper has historically not treated students of color well has been a challenge. Closson said he appreciates people raising their voices about their coverage and said the staff is learning to navigate the space of being student journalists. 

Boyle spoke to The Washington Post about what was going through his mind as he took photos at the protests.

“These are my peers, these are people that I might have class with,” he told the paper. “If something happened, God forbid, I was the only camera that was non-police-owned in that area, to my knowledge.”

On Twitter, he said that he has reflected a lot on what it means to be a journalist. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Chicago Tribune)

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Veteran Burial Problem: Why Veteran Cemeteries Are Running Out of Space & What’s Next

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Over the last few decades, veteran cemeteries throughout the US have been facing an ongoing problem — they’ve been running out of space. In an effort to address this, the US Department of Veterans Affairs, specifically the National Cemetery Administration, has been working to acquire new land to expand current national cemeteries and establish new ones.

They’ve also launched the Urban Initiative and the Rural Initiative in order to improve accessibility for veterans living in densely populated cities and in more rural parts of the country, respectively. But the challenges don’t end there. As it stands, national cemeteries are still at risk of running out of room within the next twenty to thirty years. And as a result, new changes are being proposed; changes that would impact eligibility requirements and potentially limit which veterans can and cannot be buried below ground. Watch the video to find out more.

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BART Apologizes After a Man Was Handcuffed for Eating a Sandwich on a Train Platform

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  • Protestors have staged “eat ins” and spoken out on social media in support of a BART rider who was handcuffed and cited for eating a sandwich on a train platform, a violation of CA law. 
  • BART’s General Manager noted that the man refused to provide identification, and “cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm throughout the entire engagement.”
  • But still, the official apologized to the rider and said the transit agency’s independent police auditor is investigating the incident.

Viral Video 

A transit official in California’s Bay Area apologized Monday after a video showed a man waiting to catch a train being handcuffed and cited for eating a breakfast sandwich on the station platform. 

In a now-viral video posted to Facebook Friday, a police officer is seen detaining a man who has since been identified as 31-year-old Steve Foster. Foster was heading to work around 8 a.m. on Nov. 4 when an officer stopped to tell him he was breaking the law by eating on the platform.

According to Bay Area Transit Authority (BART) General Manager Bob Powers, before the video starts, the officer asked the passenger not to eat and decided to move forward with a citation when he continued to do so. 

The video shows the officer holding onto Foster’s backpack as the two argue. “You are detained and you’re not free to go,” the officer says.

“You came up here and fucked with me,” Foster responds. “You singled me out, out of all these people.”

“You’re eating,” the officer says.

“Yeah, so what,” Foster responds.

“It’s against the law,” the officer says. “I tried to explain that to you. It’s a violation of California law. I have the right to detain you.”

The officer threatens to send Foster to jail for resisting arrest and eventually calls for backup. Foster’s friend, who filmed the encounter, tells the officer that there are no signs in the station that say passengers can’t eat on the platform. 

“Why is there a store downstairs selling food if we’re not allowed to eat up here?” she says. 

“Where is the sign up here that says we can’t eat on the platform? We know we can’t eat on the train.”  

Foster continues to eat and tell the officer he does this every morning. The officer continues to hold onto the backpack to detain Foster for refusing to give his name. Foster becomes more frustrated and throws profanities at him.

“You don’t get no pussy at home. I know you ain’t. When was the last time you got your dick sucked? I know it’s been a while,” Foster tells the officer before asking him to call his supervisor.

“I just missed two trains because of your fa**ot ass. You fucking fa*. Ask your momma what my name is,” he also tells the officer. 

“Show me a sign where it says I cant eat on the platform,” Foster says, but before the officer can respond he shouts in his face. “Shut up n***a. You ain’t got shit to say and now you feel stupid n***a…You nerd. You fucking nerd. Let my bag go.” 

After a few minutes, three other officers arrive and handcuff Foster before walking him down the platform and through the station. One of the officers then tells him he is being held because he matches the description of someone who was creating a disturbance on the platform. 

In a second video, the officer tells Foster’s friend he was initially responding to a report of a possibly intoxicated woman on the platform, whom he never found. That’s when he spotted Foster and let him know there is no eating on BART. He also tells the friend there are in fact signs that say there is no eating in the paid area of BART.

Foster was given a citation for the infraction and released after providing his name to the police. 

Reactions

After the footage circulated across social media, (in some cases, shorter edited clips) many users and BART riders expressed their frustration.

The incident even sparked protests and “eat ins” over the weekend, with more scheduled to continue. One Facebook event for this coming Saturday is called “Eat a McMuffin on BART: They Can’t Stop Us All.” 

According to BART Communications Director Alicia Trost, eating is prohibited in the “paid area” of the transit stations, meaning once passengers pass through the ticketing gate. The specific California law is PC 640 (b) (1): “Eating or drinking in or on a system facility or vehicle in areas where those activities are prohibited by that system.”

Though many social media users thought Foster was arrested for the incident, the BART spokesperson clarified that he was only issued a citation for eating. The spokesperson said Foster was “lawfully handcuffed when he refused to provide his identification,” and added that “the court will determine level of fine he should pay.”

Similar statements were provided on social media to users who had questions about the situation.

BART Apology 

In his Monday statement, General Manager Powers said, “As a transportation system, our concern with eating is related to the cleanliness of our stations and system.”

“This was not the case in the incident at Pleasant Hill station on Monday,” he continued. 

He noted that Foster, “refused to provide identification, cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm through out the entire engagement,” but added that context of the situation was important. 

The officer was doing his job but context is key. Enforcement of infractions such as eating and drinking inside our paid area should not be used to prevent us from delivering on our mission to provide safe, reliable, and clean transportation. We have to read each situation and allow people to get where they are going on time and safely.”

“I’m disappointed [by] how the situation unfolded. I apologize to Mr. Foster, our riders, employees, and the public who have had an emotional reaction to the video,” he added.

In response to the statement, Foster told KGO–TV “I’m definitely upset, mad, a little frustrated, angry about it.”

“I hope they start focusing on stuff that actually matters like people shooting up dope, hopping the BART, people getting stabbed.” He also told other news outlets that he believes he was singled out because of his race and want the officer who cuffed him to be disciplined.

Foster said he is looking into his legal options as of now. According to Powers, the transit agency’s independent police auditor is investigating the incident.

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (NBC Bay Area) (CNN)

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