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Billionaire couple’s $100 million donation to HBCU Spelman College

Spelman College located in Atlanta is set to be the recipient of the largest single financial contribution ever gifted to a historically Black college or university, as announced by the institution on Thursday. 

Wealthy individuals Ronda Stryker and William Johnston have pledged $100 million to the women’s college. Stryker, a member of Harvard Medical School’s board of fellows and Spelman College’s board of trustees, is also the granddaughter of the founder of Stryker Corp., a medical device company. Her spouse, Johnston, is the founder and board chairman of Greenleaf Trust, a wealth management firm in Michigan. 

Dr. Helene Gayle, the President of Spelman College, expressed that the institution is both “invigorated and inspired” by the generous donation.

According to Gayle, “This gift is a critical step in our school’s mission to eliminate financial barriers to starting and finishing a Spelman education. We can’t thank Ronda Stryker enough for her selflessness and support as both a trustee and friend. There’s no doubt that Spelman College is better because of her.”

Spelman, a private liberal arts college, has previously received other substantial donations including a $10 million donation in February of last year from Rosemary K. and John W. Brown to aid in the construction of its Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D., Center for Innovation & the Arts, which is scheduled to open this fall.

The bulk of Stryker and Johnston’s contribution, totaling $75 million, will be allocated towards endowed scholarships for future students, while the remaining $25 million will be utilized to “develop an academic focus on public policy and democracy, improve student housing, and provide flexible funding to meet critical strategic needs,” as stated in an official announcement. 

Expressing her sentiment, Stryker conveyed her deep care for the sisterhood established by the college and emphasized the powerful and transformative impact of education for women.

Stryker stated, “I have seen first-hand the enormous impact financial investment has generated for Spelman’s highly talented students. It’s important to me that all women be provided an opportunity to explore their talents, challenge their self-doubts, and realize the power of achieving individual success.”

Social media saw several Spelman students and alumni expressing their excitement and jubilation over the historic donation.

“Congrats to my beloved Spelman College on a $100 million dollar donation!,” tweeted one student. “Incredible!”

“THY NAME WE PRAISE BECAUSE ,” one Spelman alumna tweeted.

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have meager endowments compared with other institutions, but have experienced an increase in donations since the racial justice protests that were sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Spelman, which has an enrollment of about 2,400 students, has been relatively well-financed, reporting an endowment of $571 million in 2021.

Stryker has served as a Spelman trustee since 1997. In 2018, she and Johnston donated $30 million to Spelman. Additionally, in 2011, they provided a $100 million gift to establish the Homer Stryker medical school at Western Michigan University.

This significant donation to Spelman comes in the wake of the United Negro College Fund’s recent announcement of a $100 million donation from the Lilly Endowment Inc. This generous contribution will be directed towards a pooled endowment for the 37 historically Black colleges and universities that constitute UNCF’s membership, including Spelman, with the objective of enhancing the long-term financial stability of these institutions. The fund aims to raise $370 million for a shared endowment.

In recent years, other substantial donations to HBCUs include the $560 million contributed by MacKenzie Scott, the former spouse of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, in 2020 which was allocated to 22 Black colleges, UNCF and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his wife, Patty Quillin, distributed $120 million among the United Negro College Fund, Spelman, and Morehouse College. Former New York mayor and entrepreneur Michael Bloomberg pledged $100 million for student aid at the four historically Black medical schools.

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