Robert F. Smith at US Embassy in Berlin, 2018
By Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
Today we are witnessing an increased spirit of giving to help underserved communities across the United States. The Black Press of America acknowledges and takes public note of both the responsibilities and the opportunities for corporate leaders to be “Thy Sisters and Brothers Keepers.” Good social corporate responsibility matters.
This is particularly true in communities of color, which continue to be mired in poverty and insufficient access to transformative economic improvement opportunities. One of the key indicators of economic advancement and sustainability in today’s global marketplace is the extent to which effective community-based organizations have access to equity funding and high-tech innovations.
With 2021 behind us and preparations and commitments now being made for 2022, we are revisiting the progress accomplished by a leading African American entrepreneur and corporate leader, Robert F. Smith, who is helping to increase racial equity funding and bridge the digital divide in six southern cities where a large percentage of African Americans now reside: Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Houston, New Orleans and Charlotte.
Earlier last year, we highlighted the game-changing initiative that , along with PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, and BCG CEO Rich Lesser launched called the Southern Communities Initiative. This initiative is “A catalytic effort to coordinate and accelerate racial equity funding, programming, and convening organizations in six southern communities that are home to approximately 50% of the African American population.”
According to information recently posted on Smith’s dedicated website, we were pleased to learn that the Southern Communities Initiative already has identified, embraced and activated the following local leadership appointments and activations in those six states.
There are four racial equity pillars for the initiative: Wealth Creation – supporting Black-owned business growth and access to capital; Housing – providing access to resources that enable home ownership at fair rates and terms; Education / Workforce Development – creating advancement opportunities via formal education/skills training for minorities; and Health Equity – eliminating health disparities through equal access to quality, affordable healthcare.
There are also two racial equity enablers that are part of the initiative: Digital Access – providing access and adoption of affordable high-speed internet solutions for low-income and minority households; and Physical Infrastructure – providing access to affordable, reliable real-estate and civil infrastructure to support minority families and businesses.
In each of the six states, there is a well-known community servant and leader who has been designated as the “Community Lead” of the Southern Communities Initiative. In Atlanta, The Reverend Dr. Bernice King, Chief Executive Officer at The King Center, is the Lead. In Houston, the Lead is LaTanya Flix, Senior Vice President, DEI at Greater Houston Partnership. In Memphis, there is Sarah Lockridge-Steckel, Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder at The Collective Blueprint, while the Lead in Charlotte, NC is Janet LaBar, President & CEO at Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. In Birmingham, the Lead is J.W. Carpenter, Executive Director at Prosper Birmingham, and in New Orleans, it is Judy Morse, President & CEO at Urban League of Louisiana.
The philanthropy and corporate leadership of Robert F. Smith is appreciated by numerous recipients and Smith should be applauded for helping make a difference and providing hope to millions of people in underserved communities. The issues of economic equity and racial justice are still critical for the future of the nation.
Yet, the contributions of Smith and others appear to be gaining support because as of today more than 70 major corporate entities have now endorsed the Southern Communities Initiative.
The truth is there can be no real racial justice without the reality of sustainable racial equity and economic advancement of communities of color. We, therefore, without hesitation salute Robert F. Smith.
Dr. Benjamin F, Chavis, Jr. is President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and Executive Producer/Host of The Chavis Chronicles on PBS TV stations across the U.S. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org