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Netflix chief, wife pledge historic $120 million gift to Morehouse, Spelman and the United Negro College Fund

Netflix founder and CEO Reed Hastings in Barcelona in 2017. (Manu Fernandez/AP)

Reed Hastings, chief executive of Netflix, and his wife, Patty Quillin, will give $120 million to benefit black students, with the gift divided between the United Negro College Fund and two historically black colleges in Atlanta.

The gift will be split equally between the UNCF, Spelman College and Morehouse College, funding scholarships so students will graduate with less debt.

Quillin and Hastings have given millions of dollars to education over more than two decades. But at a time when the country is in turmoil, with protests over race and police brutality boiling over, the gift carries additional weight.

“It has special resonance because this moment in time has made very clear the assault that black men have been under in our society,” said David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse College, “because of systemic racism and beliefs of white superiority and the criminalization of black men.”

Thomas added: “To have a philanthropist — a white philanthropist — do what Reed did makes me hopeful that we have partners who really want to invest in the solutions to create real change in our society and to take advantage of this moment.” Solving the challenges will require a partnership on all sides of the United States’ racial, ethnic and class divides, he said.

“We’ve supported these three extraordinary institutions for the last few years because we believe that investing in the education of Black youth is one of the best ways to invest in America’s future,” Quillin and Hastings said in a statement. “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.”

Historically black colleges and universities have a tremendous record, the couple said, but are disadvantaged when it comes to giving. “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,” they said.

“Dr. King famously reminded us that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,' ” said Michael L. Lomax, chief executive of the United Negro College Fund. “I believe the arc does not bend toward justice on its own. We must bend it with all the strength and power we have. Patty and Reed are helping bend the arc toward justice. I am buoyed and uplifted by their commitment and generosity,” he said, and would steward the gift to ensure it advances their belief that black lives matter.

“The financial need at our college is acute,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, president of Spelman College, which will receive $40 million. Ninety percent of Spelman students receive financial aid, and the family incomes of half the students are less than the school’s tuition, room and board costs. The couple has visited and supported Spelman in the past, Campbell said, but she believes they were intentional about making such a major gift at this time. “It’s a moment when people are pausing and saying, ‘We really have to make significant and meaningful change.’”

Forty million dollars will go to the Morehouse College Student Success Program, enabling 200 or more students to graduate without debt. It is the largest gift to Morehouse College in the school’s 153-year history.

The Student Success Program was launched by Robert F. Smith, chief executive of Vista Equity Partners, who donated $34 million to pay off the federal loans of students and parents of the Morehouse class of 2019.

Robert F. Smith’s Morehouse pledge is getting a lot bigger

The donation will create the Dr. Michael Lomax Student Success Scholarship, named for the UNCF chief executive, who was a 1968 graduate of Morehouse.

After Hastings donated to his alma mater, Bowdoin College, Lomax, who served with Hastings on the board of the KIPP charter schools, encouraged him to give to historically black colleges, as well.

Hastings and Quillin visited Morehouse more than a year ago, Thomas said, and had given $2 million to the school. With protests sweeping the country, and the inequities that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted with its disproportionate effect on the black community, he said, the couple was seeking to make a dramatic impact.

The new gift gives him hope, Thomas said, that wealthy philanthropists will begin to see historically black colleges and universities as institutions that deserve the same level of support that high-performing and predominantly white colleges get. “Many liberal arts colleges that we compete against have billion-dollar endowments. They want our students — and that sometimes makes it hard for our students to make a choice to come to Morehouse, just like it was hard for me.”

The only way for such schools to be fully need-blind would be to raise their endowments dramatically — in Morehouse’s case, tenfold. None of their endowments ranks in the top 100, and the median is less than $16 million, compared with nearly $37 million for other colleges.

“This is a liberation gift,” Thomas said, because students who graduate without debt can pursue their dreams, not chasing jobs with high salaries but becoming teachers, if they want, or going to graduate school or working for a nonprofit.

Netflix chief announces $100 million fund for education

In 2016, Hastings announced the creation of a $100 million fund to support education. The fund was launched with grants to help black and Latino students pay for college.

In April, Hastings and Quillin donated $30 million to Gavi, an organization that helps to vaccinate children in the world’s poorest countries. Earlier this month, Hastings gave $1 million to the Center for Policing Equity, a national nonprofit that studies police bias in an effort to eliminate it.