Artist Pharrell Williams gave graduates at one Harlem high school the opportunity of a lifetime during their graduation. Williams, who served as the commencement speaker for the graduating class of Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy, offered all 114 graduates guaranteed internships.
“So let me be clear, every member of the 2019 graduating class is guaranteed an internship waiting for them, you, next summer,” Williams said in a video posted by Harlem’s Children’s Zone. “It’s one thing to be ‘woke,’ another to be awake, leaned in, and engaged.”
All 114 graduates received acceptance letters to colleges and universities across the US, The Root reported. “It’s not every day folks see a school of Black and Brown children who have closed the achievement gap,” Harlem Children’s Zone CEO Anne Williams-Isom said.
“The world is watching Harlem, but this renaissance will be different,” Williams continued during his speech. “Believe it or not, with respect, it’s going to actually be better and the reason why is because the new Harlem Renaissance has education at its core.”
Internships are often critical to launching careers, but there have been growing concerns that unpaid internships are inaccessible to low-income and/or young people of color. Critics have raised concerns that unpaid internships are limited to those who can afford to work for free.
According to the Association of American Colleges & Universities, financial barriers often bar low-income students from accessing high-quality internships.
“The lack of affordability of both internships and, more broadly, a college education, leaves low-income students at a significant disadvantage in a competitive labor market,” wrote Lucy Mayo and Pooja Shethji. They added, “Limiting internships to those who can afford them simply perpetuates existing inequalities.”
The internships are not the first time Williams has made a contribution to the education of students of color. In April, Verizon announced a partnership with the music producer to launch a tech-infused music curriculum in Verizon Innovative Learning schools around the nation, Billboard reported.
The education organization helps to provide free technology, internet access, and tech-focused curriculums to under-resourced middle schools. Williams’ partnership also involving building a Verizon Innovative Learning Lab at a middle school in Williams’ hometown of Virginia Beach.
“I want all children to have access to that kind of creative growth, access, and support. All kids, not just my own,” Williams told Billboard.
“There’s a lot of variables in a situation as to why something falls apart, but there’s only one scenario where it holds together, and that’s when all the variables are there. The environment, the family, the school, the system — there’s so many things.”
He added, “We just want to do what we can to balance the odds so that as many kids as we can afford, or help and assist in whatever ways, get this access and support.”
In May, students at Morehouse College were also given an extraordinary gift when billionaire investor Robert F. Smith announced that he and his family would pay for the graduates’ student loan debt. Smith, who was this year’s commencement speaker at the historically Black college, made the surprise announcement towards the end of his address.
“We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith said. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
Smith, who also donated to Morehouse earlier in the year to fund scholarships, urged the students to pay it forward.
“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” he said. “We are enough to ensure we have all the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”
While the exact amount of the student loan debt that will be paid off was unclear, it was estimated to reach up to $40 million.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.