House passes bill to avert shutdown
Billionaire Robert Smith urges top companies to consider reparations
Robert Smith, CEO of Vista Equity Partners, said companies that profited from the slave trade should consider paying reparations to Black Americans, citing the coronavirus pandemic's disproportionate impact on the community.
"I think that's going to be a political decision that's going to have to be made and decided upon," Smith, ranked by Forbes as the U.S.'s wealthiest African American, told Reuters. "But I think corporations have to also think about, well, what is the right thing to do?"
Those companies, he said, "can bring their expertise and capital to repair the communities that they are directly associated with in the industries in which they cover. I think that has to be a very, a very thoughtful approach. But I think action needs to be taken."
The CEO added that he has been lobbying Congress to consider the particular hardships of Black-owned businesses in distributing coronavirus aid. He noted that Black businesses on average have only two weeks of working capital, compared with two months for small businesses in general.
"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?" he said.
In the meantime, Smith told the news service he has focused his own efforts on infusing capital into Black communities with a shortage of financial institutions. About 70 percent of the Black community, he said, lacks a reliable bank branch, often leaving Black Americans to rely on more predatory institutions that target the poor and minorities.
Smith said that while "the allies weren't as widespread" in his youth in the 1960s, he believes interracial solidarity has significantly improved since then.
"Employees of companies are also going to hold the leaders accountable to do something about it," he told Reuters. "We have a chance for systemic change."
Smith previously paid off the student debt of Morehouse College's entire graduating class in September, fulfilling a pledge he made last May.