Netflix founder Reed Hastings is making the single biggest donation, by a couple or an individual, to racial justice in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, putting $120 million into America’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
The donations from Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, are the first announced commitments to exceed $100 million from any billionaire philanthropist couple for this cause. The gift speaks to how some of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest are trying to marshal their resources to support nonprofits that bridge racial gaps, even though it’s to be determined whether tech companies will actually usher in more fundamental change in Silicon Valley’s power structure.
Hastings will donate $40 million each to two of America’s most prominent HBCUs, Morehouse College and Spelman College, and another $40 million to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), which funds scholarships for historically black schools. The donations will add considerably to the endowments of the HBCUs, which on average are less than half the size of those of other colleges. Spelman’s endowment sits at $390 million; Morehouse’s at $145 million; and UNCF’s at $100 million.
Billionaires are confronting more skepticism than ever about their philanthropy and the tax breaks they get from it, especially gifts to elite colleges with massive endowments. Gifts to HBCUs may be easier to defend, considering the underrepresented populations they serve and their smaller endowments. Still, some advocates may argue that the federal government could fund these schools more heavily if taxes were raised on people like Hastings.
“Both of us had the privilege of a great education and we want to help more students — in particular students of color — get the same start in life,” the couple said in a statement. “We hope this additional $120 million donation will help more Black students follow their dreams and also encourage more people to support these institutions — helping to reverse generations of inequity in our country.”
The announcement comes a day after Recode reported that Hastings has been secretly funding a retreat center in rural Colorado for teachers and education reformers. Hastings has dedicated hundreds of millions of his personal net worth, measuring about $5 billion, toward education reform, and particularly for the expansion of charter schools. Critics of education reform, such as American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, reacted negatively to the news.
Hastings is calling on other business leaders to fund historically black schools, too. Most gifts from tech companies and billionaires so far have been smaller and focused on other causes: The biggest tech gifts came from Apple and YouTube, which each promised $100 million for broad investments in the black community; Facebook pledged $10 million for unidentified racial justice causes; and Netflix unveiled a $5 million promise to fund black creators and black businesses earlier this week.
American companies and individuals have pledged or committed about $2 billion in total donations for racial justice after the killing of Floyd, according to Candid, including a $100 million promise from Michael Jordan, the biggest individual gift.
And yet these financial commitments come amid concern that donations alone aren’t enough to address the structural issues in the US — and specific to Silicon Valley — that perpetuate racial injustices for black Americans and other people of color.