Musician and producer Pharrell Williams, who wrote the 2013 blockbuster song “Happy,” made a few college students — including one from North Texas — gleeful Friday by promising to pay off their student loans.
Channing Hill of Bedford was among the five students and recent graduates from historically Black colleges and universities who received the news that their loans would be paid off while they participated in a panel discussion Friday in Washington, D.C., about the personal impact of college-loan debt.
“I think my mama started praise dancing when I called her,” Hill, who attends Howard University and graduated from Trinity High School in Euless, wrote on Instagram. “Today, I enter my senior year with a clean slate.”
Friday’s discussion, hosted by the NAACP, was among a host of activities planned as part of Williams’ three-day “Something in the Water” festival in the nation’s capital during the Juneteenth weekend.
Williams created the festival in 2019 as a means of bringing together people from many walks of life, interests and political persuasions. He is among the festival’s star-studded lineup of performers, which also includes Anderson Paak, Jon Batiste and Usher.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson celebrated the students’ reactions by posting images of them, including Hill, appearing shocked and tearful at the news.
Johnson also reiterated his call for President Joe Biden’s administration to cancel student-loan debts for low-wage-earning graduates and other students, particularly those attending the nation’s 107 HBCUs.
“@Pharrell is cancelling all their student loan debt,” Johnson tweeted. “@POTUS, it’s your turn now to do the same for all Americans plagued by student debt.”
Right after @Pharrell surprised young NAACP leaders by paying off ALL their student debt, someone asked “what are you going to do now?”
One student tearfully responded, “I’m going to law school.”
This is what it’s about—unlocking opportunities for those historically oppressed.
— Derrick Johnson (@DerrickNAACP) June 17, 2022
According to research by the NAACP, Black Americans are the only group in the U.S. whose student-loan debt is higher than their median annual income. Canceling only $10,000 of debt would not place their student debt below their annual income, the NAACP contends.
Further, the civil-rights organization says, the average white family has 10 times the wealth of the average Black family. Additionally, white college graduates have seven times more wealth than Black college graduates, according to NAACP researchers.
Hill, a junior strategic legal and management communications major, had told panel attendees that she worried the $18,000 in student loans she had accumulated not only affected her, but also her family.
She said her debt likely would affect her parents’ ability to borrow money to finance her younger sister’s undergraduate studies, which begin next year.
The other panelists — North Carolina A&T State University’s Damarius Davis, Southern University’s Robyn Hughes, Norfolk State University’s Jamie Turner and Florida A&M University’s Devan Vilfrard — shared similar concerns over mounting college debt. Each of them is an NAACP student leader.
Hill, who is president of Howard University’s NAACP student chapter, said she was speechless upon learning the news. She had advocated for the Biden administration to cancel federal student-loan debts.
“My God. I’m still in disbelief,” Hill wrote on Instagram. “Get active in this fight to cancel ALL student loans. Call Biden. Tell him it’s time.”