Category: Cultural Events

Russell Simmons Documentary Premieres Amid Controversy

PARK CITY, Utah — Outside the Sundance Film Festival premiere of “On the Record,” the documentary about women who have accused the hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct, a truck flashed an electronic sign in support of survivors: “Hold sexual abusers accountable.” Inside, the directors were thanking the festival for its support after Oprah Winfrey backed out as an executive producer.

Drew Dixon, a central figure in “On the Record,” in a scene from the film.Credit…Omar Mullick/Sundance Institute

Simmons has denied the accusations, and Winfrey has said creative differences with the directors led to her withdrawal. But she acknowledged this month that the Def Jam founder had tried to get her to abandon the project: “He did reach out multiple times and attempted to pressure me.”

At the film’s premiere on Saturday, its two directors, Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, seemed to refer to the controversy when Ziering told the crowd, “Thanks to Sundance for standing strong and never blinking.” She added, “These are difficult times. It’s important to stand up for truth, justice and moral authority.”

The audience — which included the Netflix chairman and chief executive Reed Hastings, the CNN chief Jeff Zucker and the actresses Rosanna Arquette and Frances Fisher — was mostly silent during the screening. But applause broke out when the film’s central figure, Drew Dixon, who has accused Simmons of raping her, said, “It’s time to take seriously the plunder of black women.” The crowd also applauded when “On the Record” showed a group of hip-hop D.J.s affirming their support for the accusers.

After the screening, Dixon along with two other women from the documentary, Sil Lai Abrams and Sherri Hines, went onstage to a standing ovation and took part in a Q. and A. along with the directors.

Asked whether the fact that Ziering and Dick are white was one reason the documentary faced pushback, Dixon alluded to deep divisions among African-Americans over the #MeToo movement and whether black men were singled out for their race. The filmmakers “aren’t subject to the incoming pressure that even powerful black people are subject to,” Dixon told the audience. “They listened and deferred to us and centered us.”

Before Winfrey pulled out of the project, she had sought changes in the film to address the broader cultural context of the music industry. What the audience saw on Saturday reflected those changes.

“On the Record” follows Dixon as she weighs whether to take her sexual abuse claims public. Dixon, a 48-year-old former music executive, claims that Simmons raped her in 1995 when she was working for him as a young executive. Simmons has denied all accusations of nonconsensual sex.

Ziering and Dick, who have spent the past decade revealing sexual assault in the military (“The Invisible War”) and on college campuses (“The Hunting Ground”), begin tracking Dixon in the wake of the #MeToo movement, after an explosive column by the screenwriter Jenny Lumet alleging abuse against Simmons. Dixon’s claims are similar, and the film focuses on her as she grapples with her fears about how the black community will respond.

She also admits to idolizing Simmons when he first hired her: “Russell Simmons was who I wanted to be,” she says in the film. “I couldn’t have scripted it better.”

Recalling Anita Hill’s claims against Clarence Thomas when he was nominated for the Supreme Court, and Desiree Washington’s accusations against Mike Tyson, Dixon agonizes over whether she wants to go public, fearing that she is up against a force much larger than herself. “I’m never going to be that person,” she says in the film. “The black community is going to hate my guts.”

The documentary also discusses the culture at the time: misogyny in the music business, both in specifics when it came to hip-hop, and in general terms, pointing out that the rap genre didn’t invent the use of degrading images of women in its music videos. #MeToo founder Tarana Burke is also a frequent voice, adding commentary about black women’s place in the movement, and their feelings of alienation. “Black women feel like they have to support black men,” she said.

The movie returns to the Simmons case and other women’s stories: Abrams, a former model who had a relationship with him, tells her abuse story and the aftermath, when she tried to kill herself. “I’m a failure, a chew toy for men of power,” she says in the documentary. Hines, from the all-female hip-hop group Mercedes Ladies, also tells her story, agonizing over its consequences.

The film concludes with a tearful meeting between Abrams, Dixon and Lumet. The three join together for a survivor’s reunion, part commiseration over their shared experiences, part celebration of their recovery.

“I wish I could have come forward earlier,” Lumet says regretfully. “He could have left everyone else alone.” SOURCE OF THIS STORY: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/movies/russell-simmons-documentary-controversy.html

Can the Grammys Be Trusted?

When Deborah Dugan took her post as the chief executive of the Recording Academy, which oversees the Grammy Awards, in August, she inherited an organization in meltdown and was tasked with getting it back on track.

The problems were myriad. The Grammys, which have long skewed old, white and male, feel only tangentially in touch with contemporary pop music. Big-name stars have been distancing themselves from the event. Its record on diversity, both behind the scenes and at the winners podium, has been dismal. When faced with questions about the Grammys’ gender imbalance, Dugan’s predecessor, Neil Portnow, said that women needed to “step up.”

Drake gave a speech about not needing awards while picking up his most recent Grammy in 2019. He is not expected to attend the ceremony on Sunday.Credit…Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

In just a few months on the job, Dugan spotted trouble: voting irregularities in the nominating process; improbably hefty payments to lawyers; conflicts of interest among board members; a scheduled board vote to approve a sizable bonus for Portnow, despite the fact that he had been accused of rape by a musician, and the allegation had not been disclosed to all board members. (In a statement, Portnow said “the allegations of rape are ludicrous, and untrue.”) Behind the scenes of what is described as “music’s biggest night,” Dugan found malfeasance and rot. The catch: The Recording Academy didn’t want to change. On Jan. 16, 10 days before this year’s Grammy Awards, Dugan was placed on leave after being accused of bullying by an administrative assistant, and removed from the academy’s Los Angeles offices. Perhaps not coincidentally, Dugan had filed a memo last month detailing her concerns that “something was seriously amiss at the Academy.” After her ouster, she doubled down in a discrimination complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Now, on the eve of the 62nd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, the legitimacy of the organization that hands out the trophies is in full-fledged crisis. Given Dugan’s allegations of behind-the-scenes misbehavior, it has to be asked: Can the Grammys be trusted?

Or perhaps: Have they ever been trustworthy? The question long predates the current scandal, and what Dugan unearthed seems only to confirm longstanding critiques of the awards show. The Grammys’ claim to authority has been brittle for some time, in large part because it has failed to keep up with the ways pop is evolving. During the 2010s, an era in which hip-hop and its influence have been not just ascendant but dominant, only one nonwhite artist, Bruno Mars, won the Grammy for album of the year; the results in the song and record of the year categories are only slightly better. The academy’s resistance feels willful and hopelessly prejudiced.

Superstars of this generation are taking notice, and taking umbrage. In 2016, Frank Ocean declined to submit his album “Blonde” for Grammy consideration, telling The New York Times that the Grammy process “doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.” Last year, Drake diminished the importance of winning awards during his acceptance speech for best rap song, and in 2017, expressed bafflement at winning that same prize for “Hotline Bling,” which was, he pointed out, “not a rap song.” Kanye West — who has won 21 Grammys, but never in a major category — has long made the Grammys a target of his ire.

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The issues with the Grammys extend to the televised show as well. In 2018, Lorde was the only woman nominated for album of the year, and was not offered a solo performance slot. Last year, Ariana Grande publicly clashed with Ken Ehrlich, the show’s longtime executive producer, about why she chose not to perform. (This year will be Ehrlich’s last at the helm after a 40-year run; Grande is scheduled to perform.)

So: several of the most inventive, meaningful and popular musicians of the decade, all expressing dismay with the Grammys. These aren’t mere celebrity quibbles; this is a flaming cross-generational blind spot. Broadly speaking, nonwhite artists, female artists, and artists who come from the worlds of hip-hop and R&B are consistently marginalized, honored in genre categories but shut out in the four major categories (album, song and record of the year, and best new artist). Add it all up, and you get impending irrelevance.

This is bolstered by the peculiar Grammy microphenomenon in which little-heralded artists get nominated in the biggest categories, but typically for music that harks back to the past rather than blazes a path to tomorrow. It can feel that the only way for a newish artist to truly break through is to look backward. (The nominations this year point to a kind of progress: Lizzo, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X lead the way in the major categories.)

And yet the Grammys remain the most meaningful and respected of the music-industry awards shows, though admittedly there is not much competition. The American Music Awards are based on fan votes, the Billboard Music Awards are doled out based on sales, and the MTV Video Music Awards celebrate artists who still believe MTV is a relevant music medium. (Around 20 million people watch the Grammys ceremony on television, though the last two have had the lowest viewership ever in the coveted 18-49 demographic.)

From the outside looking in, the Grammys are understood to be a meritocracy, the night on which the industry honors its leading lights and passes the torch to deserving newcomers. But the truth has always been more complicated, and more unseemly.

Grammy nominations are shaped by a number of committees — for the major categories, and some genre-specific ones — whose composition remains secret. They effectively have override power, and can cherry-pick nominees. It is, in essence, a cabal, Dugan alleges — a system that can be scammed by people with the right connections. (The Grammys deny this.)

The Recording Academy only recently made an aggressive push to invite younger artists to become Grammy voters. That was part of a broader initiative undertaken in the wake of the Portnow “step up” kerfuffle, when the organization hired Tina Tchen of Time’s Up to lead a diversity and inclusion task force. Its final report, released last month, was harsh in its assessment of the academy’s historical lack of commitment to diversity.

Grammy voters skew older, male and white, unlike the musicians pushing pop into the future. Honoring the music of the now via the judgment of the creators of yesteryear is a disaster in waiting, an almost certain guarantee of misrepresentation. Several years of this have built up a climate of mistrust that it’s unclear the enterprise can recover from.

Dugan’s appointment was supposed to disinfect the Grammys, but her removal only reveals how ambitious that task remains. Yet since the statements in her complaint were made public on Tuesday, there has been curiously little outcry from musicians, either because of a lack of genuine interest or concern, or something less obvious. Behind the scenes, artists share labels, publicists, lawyers. Everyone knows someone who benefits from the system as it currently operates, and perhaps believes that if they just keep quiet, they too may someday be on the right side of the swindle.

Or perhaps it is already accepted that the Grammys are more interested in protecting the interests and reputations of its elder members than promoting the innovations of younger generations. The current revelations merely confirm what has long been suspected, or implicitly understood.

Besides, corruption in the music business doesn’t begin and end with the Grammys. The #MeToo movement that swept Hollywood has gained little momentum in pop music. Everything is a little bit fishy — some artists release merchandise bundles with their music to juice sales numbers; others beg fans to stream their music to get good chart placements. Younger artists arrive into a system that’s already rigged against them. And those in power don’t know how to cede it.

If the Grammys don’t rapidly absorb change, its claim to be the standard-bearer music awards platform will be rendered null. Forward-looking musicians will seek out new platforms that are more in touch, leaving the Grammys with scraps, eroding their authority and their allure. Before long, perhaps no one will crave a Grammy at all. SOURCE OF THIS STORY: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/arts/music/grammys-controversy.html

How a Hip-Hop Party Went From a Harlem Basement to Packing Barclays

Inside the rise of D’ussé Palooza.

The party continues to grow and there are plans to go global, with events in Ghana, South Africa, London and Paris.

Kameron McCullough and Nile Ivey were having a rough year.

It was December 2012, and the two friends hatched a plan to simultaneously wash away their troubles and usher in a more buoyant 2013. They settled on hosting a small game night.

Mr. Ivey, a D.J. and music blogger, had been laid off from his job at BET Networks. Mr. McCullough had been fired from his job at Condé Nast just a few months after being evicted from his apartment.

They planned to keep the invite list short, ensure that it included plenty of women and inform attendees that gaining entry required two things: a bottle of Hennessy cognac and a bucket of fried chicken.

“It’s going to be a Henny Palooza,” Mr. McCullough recalls one friend joking.

Seven years later, the event — now known as D’ussé Palooza — has grown from an East Harlem house party attended by barely 50 people to an event that drew 9,000 to Barclays Center in Brooklyn this month, while expanding to more than a dozen United States cities.

The party attracts thousands of fans every year, a group that includes professional athletes like the N.B.A. star Kevin Durant and the New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, music industry luminaries like the New York radio hosts Charlamagne Tha God and Ebro Darden, sports journalists like Bomani Jones of ESPN and Jemele Hill of The Atlantic, and the hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper.

“It’s the best party in America,” Reginald Ossé, a podcaster and onetime Source magazine editor known as Combat Jack, once declared. (Mr. Ossé died in 2017.)

The event’s new name is the product of a multimillion-dollar deal with Jay-Z, the music star and entrepreneur. Mr. McCullough, 34, and his team have entered into a rare partnership with Jay-Z’s music label, Roc Nation. As a result, the cognac brand D’ussé, which the rapper is an investor in, now sponsors the event.

Although Hennessy figured in the party’s origins and some people who attend still call it Henny Palooza, neither Mr. McCullough nor any of his colleagues has ever had any affiliation with, or the consent of, the cognac’s maker, Moët Hennessy USA corporation. READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/23/nyregion/dusse-palooza-barclays-center.html

8 Dance Performances to See in N.Y.C. This Weekend

AMERICAN BALLET THEATER’S NEW YORK SUMMER INTENSIVE at Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (July 26, noon and 2:30 p.m.). Curious about the next generation of dancers? Two afternoon performances wrap up Ballet Theater’s 24th annual training program, directed by Kate Lydon, for dancers ages 12 to 20. Students of the five-week intensive, under the instruction of former company members including Cynthia Harvey, Leslie Browne, Lupe Serrano and Cheryl Yeager, will perform selections from “Coppélia,” “Don Quixote,” “Giselle,” “La Bayadère,” “Swan Lake,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and August Bournonville’s “Le Conservatoire.”
212-477-3030, ext. 3416; abt.org

BOY BLUE at Gerald W. Lynch Theater (Aug. 1-3, 7:30 p.m.). This East London hip-hop group, last seen at the 2018 White Light Festival, returns to Lincoln Center for an encore of its acclaimed political and virtuosic “Blak Whyte Gray.” Presented this time by the Mostly Mozart Festival, the company explores themes of oppression, identity and transcendence. Michael Asante (also known as Mikey J) is credited with creative direction and music, while Kenrick Sandy (who goes by H2O) is the piece’s choreographer.
212-721-6500, lincolncenter.org/mostly-mozart-festival

YOSHIKO CHUMA AND THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS at the Invisible Dog (July 26, 7 p.m.). Chuma, a veteran experimental choreographer and conceptual artist, presents the final presentation of “My Diary: Secret Journey to Tipping Utopia.” In it, musicians, dancers and designers interact, but never directly as fragments of sound, text and action — a metaphor for the cycle of life — fluctuate between states of utopia and war. Chuma has been in residency at the Invisible Dog since July 1.
theinvisibledog.org

COMPAGNIE HERVÉ KOUBI at Prospect Park Bandshell (July 27, 8 p.m.). For the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, this company led by Koubi, a French-Algerian choreographer, presents his evening-length “What the Day Owes to the Night.” With a cast of 12 French-Algerian and African dancers, this vibrant production combines capoeira, martial arts, hip-hop and contemporary dance; it’s Koubi’s signature work and his second collaboration with street dancers from Algeria and Burkina Faso.
718-683-5600, bricartsmedia.org

JACOB’S PILLOW DANCE FESTIVAL in Becket, Mass. (through Aug. 25). This weekend, the festival hosts the Paul Taylor Dance Company in repertory works and the tap choreographer Caleb Teicher with the composer and pianist Conrad Tao for their collaboration “More Forever” (both performances run through Sunday). In the coming week, “The Day,” an anticipated piece by the cellist Maya Beiser, the dancer Wendy Whelan and the choreographer Lucinda Childs, has its premiere; the production, which features music by David Lang, explores memory and resilience (Wednesday through Aug. 4). Also, A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham offers a mixed repertory program, which includes his own works as well as one by Andrea Miller (Wednesday through Aug. 4).
413-243-0745, jacobspillow.org

MADE IN N.Y.C. 2.0: NEXT GENERATION TRADITIONS at Hearst Plaza (July 28, 1 p.m.). As part of its Heritage Sunday series, Lincoln Center Out of Doors presents this free, mixed bill featuring Redobles de Cultura, a collective of three New York City Afro-Puerto Rican bomba practitioners; Sri Lankan Dance Academy of New York, an intergenerational group based in Staten Island; Michael Winograd & the Honorable Mentshn, a Brooklyn klezmer group; and Inkarayku, an Andean band that performs Quechua folk songs and dance music. This presentation highlights the art and culture of first- and second-generation New Yorkers.
212-721-6500, lincolncenter.org

92Y MOBILE DANCE FILM FESTIVAL at the 92nd Street Y (July 27, 4, 5:30 and 7 p.m.). How often have you lost track of time watching dance videos on your smartphone? Here’s an opportunity to see three programs’ worth — 48 films in all — at the 92Y’s second annual festival celebrating works shot on mobile devices. Its international jury considered more than 100 submissions from 14 countries, including Argentina, Cuba, France, Greece and Japan. The selected films include David Fernandez’s “The Clock,” Rebecca Gillespie’s “The French Girl,” and Roma Flowers and Nina Martin’s “Secondary Surfaces Redreamed.”
212-415-5500, 92y.org

YOUNG DANCEMAKERS COMPANY at various locations (July 26, 7 p.m.; July 28 and 31 and Aug. 1, 2 p.m.; July 30, 1 p.m.; through Aug. 3). This dance ensemble, which comprises students from New York City public high schools, continues its 24th annual touring season, taking place at different locations across four boroughs, from the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on Friday to the Kumble Theater in Brooklyn on Tuesday. Since the end of June, the young dance artists have developed original choreography under the guidance of Alice Teirstein and Jessica Gaynor, as well as the 2019 guest artist John Heginbotham, and now present the end result in these free public showings.
youngdancemakerscompany.org

Strippers Are Doing It for Themselves

Around 10 most nights, Nikeisah Newton hops into her car for a 10-minute drive into downtown Portland, Ore., so that she can deliver healthy meals that include ingredients like massaged kale to strippers working the evening shift. “One of the best forms of activism is feeding people,” Ms. Newton said. Her company is called Meals 4 Six Inch Heels, and it’s intended to support a community that she feels has been shunned and taken advantage of for too long.

Ms. Newton, whose ex-girlfriend is a former stripper, has joined a wave of dancers and their allies across the nation who are fighting to reform labor practices; put an end to sexual harassment and discrimination in their workplaces; and stifle the stigma around what they believe is as legitimate a profession as any.

Members of this movement are sharing their experiences with the public through podcasts, books and visual arts; using technology to spread information about their industry; and protesting injustices in the streets. They are also finding ways to care for each other, with meal-delivery services, yoga classes, book clubs, clothing lines with slogans of solidarity, financial planning lessons and comedy workshops.

When you use the word “platform” now in the stripping community, it’s as likely to refer to social media as shoes. At V-Live in Los Angeles, guests are encouraged to use their phones to take videos and photos of the dancers. On a recent evening, a photographer circled the dancers, taking images that they could later buy to use on their Instagram accounts.

The water-cooler conversations in the 1980s and ’90s, with the mainstream movies “Flashdance,” “Showgirls” and “Striptease,” may be coming back, as strippers return to the big screen in September with “Hustlers,” about dancers who steal money from their rich customers.

The film features the celebrities Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Constance Wu. Cardi B, a megastar, takes pride in and has spoken positively about her experiences with stripping. Beyoncé’s best-selling album, “Lemonade,” has a song called “6 Inch” about working as a stripper. Magic City and other clubs in Atlanta are well known among hip-hop fans as places where musicians test out new songs.

And across America, the face of stripping, and its audience, is changing. No longer the domain solely of finance bros and the like unwinding after hours, strip clubs these days are also frequented by couples and friends.

“Our audiences in the last 10 years, specific to my home club, have become more diverse, younger, more gender broad,” said Elle Stanger, 32, who has worked as a stripper for a decade and lives in Portland. “It’s not just middle-aged white men anymore.”

What is the summer solstice? The answer might surprise you.

This year, the northern summer solstice falls on June 21 at 11:54 a.m. ET. South of the Equator, this same moment marks the unofficial beginning of winter. Solstices occur at the same time around the world, but their local times vary with time zones.

Solstices occur because Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted about 23.4 degrees relative to Earth’s orbit around the sun. This tilt is what drives our planet’s seasons, as the Northern and Southern Hemispheres get unequal amounts of sunlight over the course of a year. From March to September, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted more toward the sun, driving its spring and summer. From September to March, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away, so it feels autumn and winter. The Southern Hemisphere’s seasons are reversed.

On two moments each year—what we call solstices—Earth’s axis is tilted most closely toward the sun. The hemisphere tilted most toward our home star sees its longest day, while the hemisphere tilted away from the sun sees its longest night. During the Northern Hemisphere’s summer solstice—which always falls around June 21—the Southern Hemisphere gets its winter solstice. Likewise, during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice—which falls around December 22—the Southern Hemisphere gets its summer solstice.

You can also think about solstices in terms of where on Earth the sun appears. When it’s a summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun appears directly over the Tropic of Cancer, the latitude line at 23.5 degrees North. (That’s as far north as you can go and still see the sun directly overhead.) During the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, the sun appears directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, the Tropic of Cancer’s southern mirror image.

Earth is not the only planet with solstices and equinoxes; any planet with a tilted rotational axis would see them, too. In fact, planetary scientists use solstices and equinoxes to define “seasons” for other planets in our solar system. READ MORE: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/what-is-summer-winter-solstice-answer-might-surprise-you/

Morehouse Graduates’ Student Loans to Be Paid Off by Billionaire

Not even Morehouse College administrators knew the announcement was coming.

Addressing the college’s class of 2019, Robert F. Smith, a man who is richer than Oprah Winfrey, made a grand gesture straight out of the television mogul’s playbook.

“My family is going to create a grant to eliminate your student loans,” he said on Sunday morning, bringing the approximately 400 students in caps and gowns to their feet.

“This is my class,” he said.

In January, Mr. Smith, a billionaire, donated $1.5 million to the college to fund student scholarships and a new park on campus. He received an honorary degree at the graduation on Sunday.

[Who is Robert F. Smith? Read more.]

The value of the new gift is unclear because of the varying amounts the students owe, but the money will be disbursed through Morehouse College and will apply to “loans students directly have for their college education,” a representative for Mr. Smith said.

Because Morehouse was not informed of Mr. Smith’s plans before the ceremony, details about how the money would be distributed were not immediately available.

A private equity titan, Mr. Smith founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000.

After making a fortune in software, he was named the nation’s richest African-American by Forbes. According to that financial magazine, Mr. Smith’s estimated net worth is $5 billion, making him richer than Ms. Winfrey, who previously held the title of the wealthiest black person.

Mr. Smith studied chemical engineering at Cornell University and finance and marketing at Columbia Business School. Although he shunned the spotlight for many years, Mr. Smith has recently embraced a more public role, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and making major charitable contributions. Cornell named its chemical and biomolecular engineering school for him after he announced a $50 million gift, and he has made major donations to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. He started the Fund II Foundation, which is focused in part on preserving African-American history and culture, and signed the Giving Pledge, a campaign through which wealthy individuals and families commit more than half their wealth to charitable causes, either during their lifetimes or in their wills.

Anand Giridharadas, the author of “Winners Take All” and a frequent critic of big philanthropy, said Mr. Smith’s offer was “generous.” But, he added, “a gift like this can make people believe that billionaires are taking care of our problems, and distract us from the ways in which others in finance are working to cause problems like student debt or the subprime crisis on an epically greater scale.”

Sunday’s announcement came amid growing calls to address the crushing burden of student loan debt in the United States, which has more than doubled in the past decade.

Over the past 20 years, average tuition and fees at private four-year colleges rose 58 percent, after accounting for inflation, while tuition at four-year public colleges increased even more, by over 100 percent, according to research from the College Board.

According to federal data, the average federal student loan debt is $32,000. The standard repayment plan for federal student loans is up to 10 years, but most students, according to research, take far longer than that to pay off their balances.

For the students at Morehouse, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta that costs about $48,500 per year to attend, the gift could be transformative, especially in the unsettled years after graduation.

In an interview with the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Elijah Dormeus, a 22-year-old business administration major carrying $90,000 in student debt, said: “If I could do a backflip, I would. I am deeply ecstatic.”

Mr. Smith’s prepared speech did not include his plan to pay off the students’ debts.

“Now, I know my class, who will make sure they pay this forward,” Mr. Smith said on Sunday morning. “And I want my class to look at these alumni, these beautiful Morehouse brothers — and let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity moving forward — because we are enough to take care of our own community.”