- Amid growing unrest over the murder of George Floyd, private-equity titan Robert F. Smith advised his staff to “reach out to the communities that are grieving most, and let them know that you support them.”
- In the memo, first obtained by The New York Times, Smith recounts his uncle’s murder by a white gas station attendant nearly 50 years ago and writes that “we have work to do.”
- Smith, the richest black man in America, became a social-media sensation in May 2019 after pledging to pay off the student loans of an entire college’s graduating class.
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Robert F. Smith has a simple piece of advice for his employees amid a national reckoning on racism: Focus on love.
While quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a weekend email sent to the staff of his private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners, Smith recounted how his family dealt with the murder of his uncle by a white gas-station attendant nearly 50 years ago and called for “love and understanding.”
A representative for Smith declined to comment further on the memo when reached by Business Insider.
Read Smith’s full memo, first obtained by The New York Times, below.
Dear Vista Family,
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.
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. I am not alone. I have heard from many of you that you have been deeply moved by these events, and I did not want them to pass without sharing a few thoughts with you.
I can still vividly recall the pain I felt as a youth when I found my mother and father comforting each other as they just learned that my uncle was shot dead, by a white gas station attendant. I was quite confused by this as my uncle, who had just received his masters degree and was recently married, was quite excited about having landed a job with the State of Colorado inspecting various facilities across the state. Apparently this gas station attendant couldn’t imagine why an African American would have a state gas card and felt the appropriate action was to shoot and kill him. This was almost 50 years ago, and the pain still lingers.
In so many ways, this is a better, stronger, more inclusive country than it has ever been. In other ways, progress still feels so elusive. There is still so much hate, bigotry, anger, violence, and misunderstanding in our society that’s a lot harder to overlook after the events of this week.
It’s natural to feel helpless in light of the events we’re seeing in the news. Each of us has to choose to overcome. Each of us can embrace the words that Dr. King spoke in a sermon in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1957. He said, “We must discover the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world.”
We may not be able to mend all the broken parts of our society immediately, but we can each contribute the love and understanding in our hearts and in our souls to our families and our communities. Take the time to reach out to the communities that are grieving most, and let them know that you support them and we are one.
Let’s each of us hold the people we love a little tighter this weekend, and do our part to make of this old world a new world. We have work to do.
With love and gratitude,
American cities erupted in protests over the weekend after the recent murders of three African Americans — Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. At the same time, black Americans are dying at disproportionately high rates of the novel coronavirus.
Smith, a billionaire investor, has long been an outspoken supporter of racial equality, funding The New York Times’ 1619 Project and making the second-largest private donation to the National Museum of African American History and Culture through his Fund II Foundation in 2016. Smith built a $5 billion fortune after founding software-focused private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners in 2000, Business Insider reported.
The investor became a household name after announcing that he would pay off the Morehouse class of 2019’s student loans while delivering their commencement address in May 2019. The university later said that the donation, which Smith extended to cover any outstanding loans held by the graduates’ parents, totaled $34 million.