Novelist and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott is making sure her exorbitant wealth reaches well-intended institutions. This week one of the world’s richest women announced that she had given away $1.7 billion of her fortune, with a chunk of it going to historically Black colleges and universities.

“I have no doubt that tremendous value comes when people act quickly on the impulse to give, Scott wrote in her giving pledge made last year. “No drive has more positive ripple effects than the desire to be of service.”

The HBCUs benefitting from the former wife of Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos is Howard University, Hampton University, Xavier University, Morehouse, Spelman and Tuskegee. While several schools have not disclosed their actual gift amounts, many, including Hampton, have noted it as their largest single-donation in history.

In a press release shared with ESSENCE, Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey reacted by saying, “This pure act of benevolence is clearly a game changer and it could not have come at a better time. I speak for the entire Hampton University community when I say we are grateful to Ms. MacKenzie Scott, who has chosen to support us during this unprecedented period of uncertainty.”

Barack Obama delivers the commencement speech at Hampton University, a historically Black university in Virginia that recently received a large financial gift from MacKenzie Scott
May 9, 2010 — US President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. (Photo JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Since the start of the nation’s coronavirus outbreak, colleges across the country have been forced to close their doors and shift to online learning. For HBCUs, several of which were already hurting financially, COVID-19 has thrown a detrimental blow to the future of their legacy and the overwhelmingly Black population that they serve. According to CNN, the financial gifts given to the six HBCUs from Scott range from $40 million to $20 million each.

“I watched the first half of 2020 with a mixture of heartbreak and horror. Life will never stop finding fresh ways to expose inequities in our systems; or waking us up to the fact that a civilization this imbalanced is not only unjust, but also unstable,” Scott shared in a Medium post announcing her gift. “What fills me with hope is the thought of what will come if each of us reflects on what we can offer.”

Scott has given the “116 organizations driving change” autonomy to decide where the money would be best used. Harvey, according to the release, is considering using some of it to help fund the  Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute, “where lives are saved daily from the devastating effects of cancer.” They also plan to extend scholarships to high-achieving high school students and make campus-wide upgrades. 

Other Black-focused organizations were also beneficiaries of Scott’s generosity. They include Black Girls Code, Harlem Children’s Zone, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the United Negro College Fund.

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