Smith’s nonprofit, Student Freedom Initiative and Prudential Financial have collaborated on a program called Handling Everyday Life Problems for Students, or HELPS. HELPS is slated to launch during the spring 2022 academic year at participating HBCUs.
Prudential Financial pledged to underwrite $1.8 million in micro-grants to HBCU students “to accelerate economic mobility and close the financial divide, furthering Student Freedom Initiative and Prudential’s shared commitment to helping close the racial wealth gap.” Additionally, Prudential will provide pro bono services and paid internships that promote financial literacy among HBCU students as well as their families.
The three-year pilot program will offer funds to qualified students for emergency financial issues that "affect a student’s health, life, property, or environment, and require immediate attention."
Smith, who founded the nonprofit in 2020 and paid off the student debt of the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College, expressed his ongoing commitment to HBCUs.
“Student Freedom Initiative applauds the leadership of Prudential Financial and their support for our shared mission of eliminating barriers of access for underserved communities,” Smith said. “By enabling the launch of the HELPS Program, a vital component of our work is to address the holistic needs of HBCU students and families, Prudential’s gift will provide long-needed and often overlooked aid and support persistence of those most vulnerable in our community.”
Mark A. Brown, executive director of Student Freedom Initiative and a graduate of Tuskegee University, believes that the HELPS program will help empower the most financially vulnerable students. He noted that research has shown that unexpected expenses disproportionately affect Black students.
“One HBCU president told us about a student who was unable to fully participate on camera for class – as required – due to a damaged computer, which ultimately impacted that student’s grades,” Brown said. “Another president described always having to keep petty cash in their office to help students, including once giving a student $300 to cover an unexpected expense. That student later told the president that they likely would not have graduated without that $300. So, the work that we’re doing through this partnership is impactful and helping to contribute to the long-term success of these talented and deserving students.”
“At Prudential, we’ve spent decades working to close the financial divide, in part through partnerships that address systemic barriers to economic, social, and racial equity,” said Sarah Keh, vice president of Inclusive Solutions at Prudential Financial. “As part of our multi-pronged strategy to support HBCUs, our partnership with Student Freedom Initiative will help us scale solutions so that more Black students will remain in college and ultimately graduate, putting them on a path to financial security.”
To learn more about the initiative, visit StudentFreedomInitiative.org.