Robert F. Smith, the private equity billionaire who is the nation’s richest Black person, suggested that companies who profited from the Transatlantic slave trade should consider paying reparations to African Americans during an interview with Reuters.
“I think that’s going to be a political decision that’s going to have to be made and decided upon. But I think corporations have to also think about, well, what is the right thing to do?” Smith said in a video interview.
Corporations “can bring their expertise and capital to repair the communities that they are directly associated with in the industries in which they cover,” he added. “I think that has to be a very, a very thoughtful approach. But I think action needs to be taken.”
The financier said although the COVID-19 has impacted the Black community especially hard due to decades of social and economic injustices, it may also present opportunity for systematic change.
“People are saying now, what can I do to make real systemic change and eliminate and eradicate racism in America?” said Smith. “That is an outgrowth of the protest and the realization that this racism is unjust and can’t stand.”
Smith says he is pushing U.S. lawmakers to make more aid available to Black businesses and communities.
“How do we restore, repair and regenerate the economic activity in these communities utilizing the force of the U.S. government and business and partnerships?” Smith said.
Smith, who grew up during the late 1960s Civil Rights era and now runs a buyout firm that focuses on investing in software companies, said he sees a more broad-based coalition of support for equality for Black people.
“The allies weren’t as widespread,” when he was growing up, Smith said. “Employees of companies are also going to hold the leaders accountable to do something about it. We have a chance for systemic change.”
Smith has supported Black people extensively in his philanthropic efforts. Last year, he pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the class of 2019 at the historically Black Morehouse College.