When billionaire Robert E. Smith decided to pay off the student loans of the graduating class of 2019 at Morehouse College, he suggested that others follow his lead.
“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” Smith declared in his commencement speech.
But is there even enough black private wealth in the United States to pay off all black student loan debt?
As a scholar in social transformation and African American studies, I’m intrigued by this question. It provides an opportunity to examine black wealth, higher education and the possibilities for alleviating debt, which in turn opens the door to new economic opportunities.
That’s a lot of money, and he’s done it before. Before his gift to Morehouse, Smith donated $50 million to Cornell University, his alma mater, in part to support African American and female students at Cornell University’s College of Engineering.
Other black celebrities have also stepped up to fund education. Powerhouse couple Beyonce and Jay Z gave more than $1 million in scholarships to students who lived in cities they were touring in 2018.
Rapper Nicki Minaj gave 37 “Student of the Game” scholarships. LeBron James, through his foundation, promised to pay for 2,300 students to attend the University of Akron – at an estimated price tag of $100 million. Oprah Winfrey has donated more than $400 million to educational causes.
Mary Church Terrell, the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, described how charitable organizations had “a keen sense of the responsibility” to secure economic and educational resources, “lifting as we climb” up the ladder of social mobility. This ethic of giving was also present among the early black economic elite such as Thomy Lafon, Madame C.J. Walker and James Forten.
But how much of it goes to higher education? African Americans across the socioeconomic spectrum report donating 17% to education – both K-12 and post-secondary institutions and scholarship funds. That adds up to about $1.8 billion donated annually.
Among black high net worth households – those with a net worth of more than $1 million (not counting the value of their primary home) or with an annual household income of $200,000 – 49% report giving to higher education. This is significant since across all racial groups, the share of dollars donated by high net worth individuals to higher education was only 4%.
Black student loan debt
Student loan debt in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2019, making it the second-highest consumer debt category behind mortgage debt. Over 44 million borrowers owe roughly $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.
Looking at 2016 data, 86.4% of blacks completing a bachelor’s degree had some form of student loan debt, and the average amount borrowed was $34,010. If we multiply the total number of blacks that graduated with some form of debt – roughly 168,000 – by the average amount borrowed per individual, the average cumulative debt for this one graduating class was roughly $5.7 billion. This includes graduates from all colleges – public as well as private – but not community colleges.
Of course, looking at it at the most basic level, the collective wealth among America’s black billionaires – which totals $13.4 billion with the recent addition of Jay-Z – can easily subsidize the debt of a single graduating class.
And while a more sophisticated calculation is undoubtedly warranted, a rough estimate shows that the $5.7 billion in black student debt could be covered by America’s black millionaire households if each one chose to devote $6,500 toward eliminating the overall debt.
Of course, the debt load for black students goes far beyond one graduating class. The majority of blacks in the labor force that hold a bachelor’s degree or higher have some form of student loan debt. This means that the figures for the entire black population with outstanding student loan debt across generations are significantly higher than $5.7 billion.
Robert Smith’s gift to the class of 2019 at Morehouse provoked an interesting discussion about whether black philanthropy can alleviate black student loan debt. However, one-off philanthropic efforts that help a small group of beneficiaries can’t compete with the kind of large-scale change needed to alter the course of an entire community.
Let’s set aside our inhibitions and have a real conversation about sex, relationships, and abstinence.
Despite biblical teachings (1 Thessalonians 4:3), tons of people would argue that, in today’s society, it’s almost unrealistic to think that anyone would wait to have sex until marriage. The world we live in today tells us that abstinence is an antiquated practice or that no one in their right mind would marry someone without determining whether the sexual chemistry is there first. The list goes on and on, but luckily, some people out there still advocate for waiting until marriage to share something so intimate with their future spouse.
Before we really dive in, I would first like to point out that there is, in fact, a distinction between abstaining from sex and just not having sex. A person might not be sexually active for a variety of reasons. However, abstinence is defined as an intentional and deliberate action to refrain from sexual activity; it is making the decision to save all sexual acts until marriage.
In her book The Naked Truth: About Sex, Love and Relationships, abstinence advocate Lakita Garth says that “abstinence is the art of self-control, self-discipline and delayed gratification.” I get it. You’re probably thinking, Who wants to work that hard for something that is supposed to bring you pleasure? But Garth reminds her readers that there is, in fact, a wonderful reward in the end.
“The fact is, the happiest sex lives are found among those who wait until marriage to have sex,” Garth says. “Those who wait are richly rewarded.”
Waiting to have sex has so many benefits, but here are a few points to start:
Abstinence is more common than you think.
Studies show that only 3%, or 1 in 30 Americans, waited until marriage to have sex. Sure, this number sounds a bit disheartening, but if you stop to think about just how many people that is, it’s not too bad. In fact, that figure means that about 10 million people in America, as we speak, have abstained until marriage. And of course, these stats are even greater within religious groups.
Secondary virginity is a real thing.
Yes, secondary virginity is “a thing.” More and more singles have made the decision to rededicate their lives—and bodies—to God by abstaining from sex. Regardless of their past, they made the decision to start over and choose abstinence even though they initially made the decision to be sexually active in the past. It’s no secret that having sex before marriage has its own negative consequences, including unplanned pregnancy, higher chances of being a single parent, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the list goes on and on.
In fact, studies show that 40 percent of children were born to unwed mothers, with nearly two-thirds of those mothers under the age of 30. Nine million new cases of STDs are reported among teens and young adults each year. And regardless of whether you have experienced these negative consequences, making the decision to be a secondary virgin means you can look forward to a future free from exposure to these previous hazards. After all, who has time to stress about an unplanned pregnancy or STDs?
“The Wait” is so worth it.
Making the decision to be abstinent is so much deeper than the physical. It provides the opportunity for your relationship to become stronger mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It’s the beauty in sharing something so intimate with your spouse and the idea of knowing that you are both truly committed to one another.
Hollywood couple Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin wrote an entire book on the power of abstinence in The Wait. In addition to being more spiritually and emotionally grounded, the couple is open about how amazing sex can be with your partner after making the decision to abstain until marriage. “There is nothing wrong with sex and sexuality,” the couple says in a recent interview with Essence magazine. “God created both for the enjoyment of married couples.”
The intimacy that happens within one’s marriage is much greater knowing that sex is something that is only shared between you and your spouse. It’s definitely the icing on the cake.
Can you think of a better option?
Let’s face it, you might have already tried other options besides abstinence, and none of them have worked. Then again, you might be one of those people who made the decision to be abstinent from the very beginning and chose to stick with it until your wedding day. Meagan Good actually chose the former and initially opted to do it her way instead of God’s way. “God had let me make my mistakes,” she says. “Now it was time to do it [His] way.”
In a society of instant gratification, abstinence certainly doesn’t seem ideal for today’s couples, especially people who are seriously attracted to one another. However, I think we all can agree that waiting to have sex until marriage just might be the best decision of your life.
Did you catch Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday? Check out what they had to say about the benefits of abstinence below:
Is it unrealistic to expect people to wait to have sex before marriage? Share your thoughts below.
Iyanla Vanzant (pictured above) is a self-help author, life coach, and star of the hit reality-show “Iyanla: Fix My Life”. Her show airs on Saturdays at 9/8c on the OWN Network (Photo Credit: TVguide.com)
However, as my relationship with God deepened in my ‘20s, I realized that Iyanla was a Yoruba priestess and maybe I didn’t need to seek that kind of wisdom from someone who didn’t share my Christian beliefs. Still, I occasionally thumbed through her books to extract the positive messages without being lured into her belief system. And then, suddenly, I stopped hearing about her altogether. Apparently, while Oprah was grooming the self-help guru to have her own talk show – similar to the way she groomed Dr. Phil – Iyanla reportedly gave her an ultimatum: give me a talk show or I’ll secure one with another media outlet. Oprah did not give her a show, but Barbara Walters did. The talk show, however, was short lived, only lasting for one season. The loss of Iyanla’s talk show marked the beginning of her descent: her husband divorced her, she lost her daughter to cancer, and declared bankruptcy.
Once Oprah started the OWN network, the media queen and her protégé eventually mended their relationship. In February 2011, the two held a raw and honest multi-episode conversation and reconciliation that revealed what really transpired just over a decade earlier. After their exchange, Iyanla received an invitation to be an expert on “Oprah’s Lifeclass” show and, ultimately, an offer to host her own show, “Iyanla: Fix My Life”, on Winfrey’s network. I watched a few of the first season episodes, but this season has set media outlets and social media buzzing. The April 13th season premiere featured DMX, a rap artist who has become as well known for his multiple arrests and erratic behavior as he is for his music, and his estranged teenage son Xavier. The episode made for gripping television: DMX nearly threatened Iyanla; shared tender moments with his son; and spoke in his trademark staccato speech patterns (which sound better in a rap song than an interview). The rapper, whose birth name is Earl Simmons, talked about being sent to a group home as a child, his drug abuse, meeting his now estranged wife Tarshera and cheating on her with multiple women. When the 90-minute show ends, the audience knows a lot about DMX and his family, but it doesn’t seem that DMX’s life has been “fixed.” In fact, he doesn’t want the show to be aired again and is reportedly planning to sue Iyanla.
In the second show, which aired April 20, Iyanla endeavors to fix the life of Sheree Whitfield, the former “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” star, and Bob Whitfield, her ex-husband and former Atlanta Falcons football player. From this episode, we learn that their marriage was troubled from the beginning: Mr. Whitfield wed his ex-wife because she was pregnant. Whitfield accused her of creating drama to be used as footage for the hit reality show and obsessing over the construction of her dream mansion Château Sheree. Sheree, on the other hand, accused her former husband of being a deadbeat dad because of his refusal to pay child support and take care of their two children. By the end of the episode, both parties readily admitted they don’t like each other and Iyanla admitted that she had not “fixed” their lives.
Today’s episode will feature popular Atlanta DJ “Sasha the Diva,” her 17-year-old son, and her new husband. Apparently, the son she raised as a single parent is acting out now that his mother has gotten married. I heard Sasha speaking about the episode a couple of weeks ago as she was the host of a seminar at a bridal show I attended. She said before she called Iyanla, she thought she was going to have to either choose her son or her husband, but Iyanla helped her to maintain both relationships. Well, I guess we will have to see for ourselves what transpires because if the past two episodes have been any indication of what is to come, there will be a whole lot of business sharing but not as much fixing.
Nevertheless, I must admit that I am a fan of the show. Iyanla has highlighted issues impacting the black community – such as drug abuse, single parenthood and blended family drama – in a way that addresses them without exploiting them. At the same time, I wonder if being on a single episode is helping families resolve issues that will likely take years of counseling to address. And while I haven’t heard Iyanla make any pointed references to her religious beliefs, I wonder if she is promoting them in any way as she counsels her show’s participants. Her new show is entertaining and educational, but Christians may need to be discerning about her advice.
WE’RE TALKING ABOUT HAIR?: Olympian Gabby Douglas was the first African American to win a gold medal in the all-around gymnastics category, but some people were more interested in her hairstyle. (Photo: Bob Daemmrich/Newscom)
What do Oprah Winfrey and Gabby Douglas have in common besides being hardworking African American females, and history-making ones to boot? Well, as you’ve probably heard by now, both came under fire last week because of issues with — wait for it — their hair.
It is no secret that within black culture hair is a pretty big deal — especially for women. Whether it’s one’s hairstyle or method of hair care, there is no shortage of opinions regarding the subject. Black women of all shades undoubtedly can say that at one point in their lives the status of their tresses has been a hot topic of conversation — and frustration.
Last week, when Oprah released a tease for the September issue of her O Magazine, where she graced the cover donning an all-new natural ’do, the chatter began immediately. In the article, O contributor Ruven Afanador said, “For the first time ever, Oprah’s appearing on the cover of O without blow-drying or straightening her hair.” Afanador writes that Winfrey enjoys wearing her hair naturally, because it makes her feel unencumbered.
But not everyone agreed that Oprah’s hair was legitimately “natural.” A controversy emerged in social media about what actually constitutes “natural,” because for some the remnant of any past chemical treatment means it’s not truly natural. Oprah needs to stop lying to herself, the detractors declared.
Soon after that, reports started circulating about criticisms of U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas’s hair, that some black women didn’t like the ponytail or how she uses a gel to grease it back.
But why all the hubbub? What is it about black women’s hair that is deemed so worthy of scrutiny by other black women? It’s been said that a woman’s hair is her glory (1 Cor. 11:15), and if that is the case then why is the personal choice of her having a natural hairdo versus a relaxer so controversial?
Evan Miles, a writer for Journey Magazine, sought to unearth the societal implications associated with black hair and the roots to African American history and culture in his provocatively titled article,“Is a Black Woman’s Hair Her Glory or Gloom?”
Miles believes that for centuries, African Americans have been stripped of their heritage and forced to comply with a European cultural worldview that encouraged a new standard of beauty. According to him, “This meant taking the very essence of their being and denouncing it.” This is why Miles believes, perhaps more than ever, why black women are so adamant about regaining ownership of their hair and their own personal identities. According to him, black women’s various hairstyles “exude confidence” and self-beauty. He believes that it’s not only what is on the outside that matters, but also what lies deep within.
GOLDEN GIRL: Douglas waves to fans at the London Games following her gold-medal victory. “What’s wrong with my hair?” she said after hearing the criticism. “It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter.” (Photo: Brian Peterson/Newscom)
So if beauty is only skin deep, and what is inside your head is of more importance than what is on top, why is someone like Gabby Douglas included in this debate? After the social media storm debating Douglas’ choice in hairstyle surfaced last week, the 16-year-old gymnast remarked that she was confused by the commotion. “I don’t know where this is coming from. What’s wrong with my hair?” she said. “I’m like, ‘I just made history and people are focused on my hair?’ ”
And Gabby, of course, is right. Why is it so easy for us to lose focus when it comes to black hair?
Reading the many stories in the press this past week got me to thinking again about this complicated subject that is a black woman’s hair. In my quest for understanding, I began reflecting on my own personal journey with hair — the ups and downs, the highs and lows, and the path to self-discovery and self-esteem.
In my 26 years of life, my identity with relation to my hair has seen many twists and curls. Like many black women, I once sustained my silky strands by way of a relaxer. Four years ago, however, I decided to forgo that method to go “natural.” My hairstyles over the course of my lifetime have been a diverse extension of who I am and a direct correlation of my personality. Being natural for me has been less about a healthy head of hair or making a statement, and more about learning to redefine my own personal standard of beauty.
Granted it takes longer for me to achieve my desired look each morning, because of all the deep conditioning and blow-drying that I do, but I wouldn’t trade that diversity for the world. I love my hair and appreciate the fact that I can be different while being a reflection of God’s diverse creation. I’ve got an eccentric personality, and like my shoe or handbag collection my hairstyle is an extension of who I am as a person.
I feel like India.Arie said it best in her song “I Am Not My Hair,” when she sang:
“I am not my hair/ I am not this skin/ I am not your expectations/ I am not my hair I am not this skin/ I am a soul that lives within.” Our hair, India reminds us, does not define us. It does not make us a better person or friend, and it does not determine who we are at the end of the day.
God created us in his very image, and he does not make mistakes. Instead of questioning his handiwork, we ought to embrace our unique style and diversity. So if rocking a weave or slappin’ a perm in your hair or wearing your hair natural is what makes you happy at the end of the day, then by all means love yourself and do you!
DANGEROUS LOVE: Whitney Houston in 1997 with then-husband Bobby Brown. (Photo: Kathy Hutchins/Newscom)
Over the past week, we have been riveted by the tragedy of Whitney Houston’s untimely death. Accounts of drug use and a fallen icon have flooded the media. Yet, little has been said about how her self-professed faith may have contributed to both her downfall and eventual escape from an unhealthy marriage relationship.
In her last major interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2009, Whitney states that she stayed in the marriage, endured abuse and humiliation, and engaged in self-destructive behaviors in her effort to be a “good” Christian wife. No matter what happened, she felt she had to remain because as she quotes, “What God has brought together, let no man put asunder.”
Yet, Whitney’s statements about letting, indeed inviting, her husband “to take control of her life,” and that a wife must do whatever her husband says is not a new concept. In fact, the concept of women being required, as a matter of faith and faithfulness, “to submit” to their husbands in all things is the pervasive normative gospel preached in churches across racial, denominational, and geographical lines. Ephesians 5:22-24, which outlines a wife’s duty to submit, is often taught without context or nuance. Rarely is the verse above it, which says to “submit to one another,” discussed. Moreover, the last verses of the chapter, which make it clear that a man wouldn’t hate or hurt his own body, do not get much airplay in the church either.
This kind of uncritical, a-contextual acceptance of a half-developed theology leads many women to unconditional obedience to a man regardless of how he treats her, much like Whitney Houston. It rebuffs and chastises women who critically analyze its meaning much like slaves were chastised for questioning the ever popular scripture of slave masters, “slaves obey your masters,” (Col. 3:22). Both the Ephesians 5:22-24 and Colossians 3:22 texts are biblical since they do appear in the Bible. But both have the potential to be misused to oppress and disenfranchise whole groups of people. They’ve also been used to maintain the status quo of unjust power structures in society.
Moreover, in 2011, CBS News reported on a Glamour/Harris poll that found that “30 percent of women who have been in a relationship have been abused. Of that 30 percent, 62 percent were hit, 33 percent were choked or strangled, and 11 percent feared their partner would kill them. Even more shocking, another 30 percent of the women said they had experienced behaviors by their partners that can be categorized as abusive, whether they be emotional or physical.”
With this kind of data, it seems incomprehensible that the church would continue to simply preach the gospel of female submission without critical reflection and further context. It is also sad that we do not give equal attention to stressing that violence has no place in any dating or marital relationship. Finally, since 83 percent of Americans categorize themselves as Christians, according to ABCNEWS/Beliefnet, this is relevant to a huge portion of our population.
Yet, Whitney’s is not just a cautionary tale of how one’s theological premise can lead them to accept abuse, disrespect, humiliation, infidelity, and neglect. In the end, it was her faith that gave her the strength to finally realize that the God she believed in did not want her to continually make herself and her talent small, so that her husband could feel big.
AMAZING GRACE: Houston was baptized in the River Jordan near the Sea of Galilee during a Holy Land pilgrimage in May 2003. (Photo: Ygal Levi/Newscom)
Whitney recounts her mother’s prodding her, telling her that the life she was living with drugs, abuse, and chaos with then-husband Bobby Brown was not God’s best for her. According to Houston, her mother, a strong Christian, reminded her of God’s presence and power to bring her out. Whitney says in the 2009 interview, “I began to pray. I said, ‘God, if you will give me one day of strength, I will leave [this house and marriage].” And one day, she did. Much like Tina Turner left her husband, Ike Turner, with only the clothes on her back, Whitney Houston left her home and husband with only a change of clothing.
The transformative power of her faith can be seen in her public discussions. When asked by Diane Sawyer in 2002 what she was addicted to, Whitney rattled off a number of drugs and added that she was “addicted to making love [to Bobby Brown].” But when Oprah asked Whitney in 2009 who she loved, the singer said, “I love the Lord!” And it was that part of her faith that had her on the way to a professional comeback and personal redemption.
In the end, Whitney Houston did not conquer every challenge that haunted her. And none of this excuses the decisions she ultimately made for her life. She owned that. But to understand her life, it is critical that we analyze the thinking and theology that animated her decision-making and helped lead her to such a tragic place.
In the Christian tradition, good theology illuminates, liberates, and pushes us to be our best selves. Bad theology takes bits and pieces of scripture out of context and threatens any who has the audacity to ask questions or to critically analyze the paradigm put forth by those in power.
Whitney’s story is the story of millions of women. It is a cautionary tale that reiterates the importance of thinking critically even about matters of faith. It also invites remembrance of the core tenant of the faith, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16). A God who does not want anyone to perish in the afterlife surely does not condone them perishing at the hands of another in this one.