Jamie Turner said she feels lighter — financially and emotionally.
Turner graduated two years ago from Norfolk State University, located in Virginia, where she studied political science. To attend this historically Black college, Turner said took out about $30,000 in loans. Something that she knew she had to gear up to pay once she left Norfolk.
“I was still 27,000 in debt, and that’s still a lot of debt to have for someone who just graduated college,” Turner told Insider.
That was her main concern until she learned that she was one of the NAACP Youth & College leaders selected to have their student loans paid off by Grammy award-winning musician Pharrell Williams earlier this year.
“I literally felt a physical weight lifted off my shoulders,” she told Insider. “I have felt so light and happy ever since then. I walk with a bit more joy, I would say, because even when I feel sad, I’m like, ‘Well, we don’t have to pay out my student loans anymore.”
In recent years, there has been a large-scale philanthropic push to address social inequity, particularly among Black student loan debt holders. And as the federal government prepares to initiate a plan to cancel portions of student loan debt, Turner’s story highlights how lifting that hefty burden of debt can alter the trajectory of a person’s life.
“It was just unexpected. I couldn’t really breathe,” she said.” I was just crying so much because I was like, ‘There’s no way this is happening. I was wondering how I was really going to pay off my loans because my payments were looking at roughly $270 a month. And I was just like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to be able to afford all those expenses.”
Over the last few years, advocates, celebrities, and philanthropists have been wiping out debt for HBCU students.
This past May, the Debt Collective, a union of debtors working to abolish all forms of debt, paid $1.7 million to women who attended Bennett College. That same month, an anonymous donor took care of the student balances Wiley College Class of 2022.
In 2019, billionaire philanthropist Robert Smith promised to clear nearly $40 million in student loans for Morehouse College graduates.
Other wealthy donors have followed suit. For instance, in recent years, MacKenzie Scott — the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos and one of the world’s richest women —gifted more than $100 million to several historically Black colleges and universities, such as a $40 million donation to Howard University in Washington, DC and $5 million to Dillard University in Louisiana, among others.
Because Turner’s loans were cleared by Williams, she now has the wiggle room to save for an apartment, pay off her car and take care of other outstanding debt.
“It’s about 35% paid off,” she said, referring to her car.”I was able to pay down my credit cards, and I’m able to have a decent amount of savings in my bank account as well.”
Turner said that if she had to pay off her loans, her life would look different.
“I would have to stay at home with my parents because there’s just no possible way with the current inflation and the lack of rising wages that I’d be able to pay off debt, live alone, and afford other living expenses.”
HBCU students take on 32% more debt than their counterparts who attend other institutions. Generally, Black graduates earn less than their white peers and are more take out more loans if they attend graduate school, Insider previously reported.
“$30,000 in debt is not the same as a Black person because a lot of white people come from families who actually have maybe a college fund or are probably more than likely going to have them pay off their debt,” Turner said.
This month, Biden announced that he would cancel between $10,000 to $20,000 for individuals making $125,000 or less and extended the payment pause until January 2023. Additionally, he said those who are Pell Grant recipients would receive $20,000.
Lawmakers, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — along with advocates like NAACP President Derrick Johnson — have pressed Biden to go further in canceling student loans to help close the racial wealth gap, which experts note has been exacerbated by the student loan debt crisis.
“President Biden has offered millions of borrowers critical relief by extending the pause on student loan payments during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Schumer and Johnson wrote in an op-ed for BET in February. “It’s time for the President to take the next step: if the Biden Administration can pause debt, then they can cancel it too.”
“Canceling $10,000 in debt is not going to be enough for anyone, but especially it’s not going to be enough for Black people,” Turner said. “So we really need, truthfully, at least $50,000.”