Billionaire investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith has been relentlessly pouring his resources into Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for years. Now, he is opening up a school in their honor.
Many are still floored by Smith’s last ground-breaking philanthropic move for an HBCU: his pledge to pay off the debt of all 2019 Morehouse College graduates. The move was estimated to eliminate a staggering $39 million in debt. He then took the move a step further by also offering to wipe out debt for the students’ parents and guardians.
Now, Robert F. Smith is opening up a school of his own. The Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy is a high school open up in his hometown of Denver, Colorado. According, to CBS Denver, the academy will embrace science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
“Founded upon the principles of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), this school is grounded in three central components that are embedded in the design of each aspect of the school: Blackness: An understanding of and pride in one’s self, history of Black people and culture in the world. Inclusion: Normalizing difference and creative collaboration in the classroom and community. An Interdisciplinary Focus: The ability to see connections between different subject areas and develop solutions that create lasting change. Our high school experience honors students’ history, individuality, cultural experiences, and future potential.”
“When I think about what it took to create the STEAM Academy, it occurs to me it wasn’t actually about starting a school. It was about building a village,” said Robert F. Smith.
The academy’s principal, Shakira Abney-Wisdom, is actually an HBCU graduate from Florida A&M University! She hopes that the school will encourage students to seek the same gratifying HBCU experience that she had.
“From the time I was in pre-K through graduate school I went to predominantly white institutions. Just stepping on the campus at A&M, it felt like I belonged, just seeing students who looked like me, professors who looked like me,” said Abney-Wisdom. It’s something that’s difficult to articulate if you haven’t experienced it, but it’s just that sense of community and family.
We get excited about the places where we belong. When we feel that me matter in space and what we bring is valuable, we show up as our full selves. That’s the piece for me that’s so important. It shows up in engagement and course performance,” said Abney-Wisdom.
The academy has the potential to change not just education in the Denver community, but the amount of professionals of color within the world.
“The demographics of people who make up the majority of the STEM professions are not people of color. HBCUs are the number one producers of black professionals in STEM fields. The hope is that the access piece would give students the opportunity to test out and see if they want to be an engineer, or researcher or scientist,” said Abney-Wisdom.
The first class at Robert F. Smith STEAM Academy will be welcomed in August 2021 to begin the 2021-2022 school year.