Businessman Robert Smith Sends a Powerful Letter About the Death of George Floyd

Adam Rathe
Photo credit: Marcus Ingram - Getty Images
Photo credit: Marcus Ingram - Getty Images

From Town & Country

Robert Smith, the billionaire businessman and chairman of the board at Carnegie Hall, who made headlines when he announced his intention to pay off the student loans of Morehouse College's 2019 graduates, sent a letter to the staff at his Vista Equity Partners this weekend addressing the racism and violence that have been at the forefront of the global conversation since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

As reported in the New York Times, Smith sent the memo below, which touches on Floyd's death (among other recent cases of lethal violence) as well as Smith's own family experiences with discrimination, this past weekend. "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," Smith wrote.

Smith is considered the wealthiest Black man in the United States. Vista Equity Partners, the private equity firm he founded, manages an estimated $46 billion in assets. Smith's personal wealth is estimated at around $5 billion, according to Forbes. He is the first Black man to sign the Giving Pledge, a commitment to donating the majority of his wealth to philanthropic causes.

He continued in his letter: "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."

Yesterday, he shared another message on Instagram, writing, "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."

The full text of that letter to his staff is 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,

Robert

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