Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recently met with two Black college alumni to discuss the student debt crisis and how the debt forgiveness plan proposed by Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren would impact them and the Black community as a whole.

In a video of a Zoom call shared exclusively with Blavity, Sen. Schumer spoke with Veronica Williams and Stanley Augustin about their education, current employment and the debt they hold from student loans.

Williams, who graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies from California State University, is getting a master's degree at Grand Canyon University while also doing nonprofit community work. By the time she finishes graduate school, she will owe $82,000 in student loans, even though her public service work has earned her some debt forgiveness. Meanwhile, Augustin, a 2013 Howard University graduate with a degree in economics and political science, now works as a digital producer for political clients. He has amassed $60,000 in educational debt.

After listening to Williams and Augustin discuss their education and work, Schumer discussed the bill that he and Warren had submitted to the U.S. Senate. The legislation urges President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to cancel much of the $1.6 trillion in student loan debt that is held by Americans. As Schumer and Warren previously told Blavity, they believe that Biden has the authority to cancel up to $50,000 in per person federal student debt, as well as wiping out any tax liabilities that would be associated with such a move.

Earlier this year, Biden rejected the $50,000 plan while urging Congress to pass a smaller debt relief plan that would cancel up to $10,000 per borrower. Undeterred by Biden’s statement, Warren and Schumer have continued to push him to enact the larger debt relief plan. The plan by Schumer and Warren is part of a progressive effort to eliminate the debt load that burdens millions of Americans. House Democrats, including Squad members Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar and first-term New York Congressmen Jamal Bowman, Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, have introduced the $50,000 forgiveness bill in the House as well.

Congresswoman Pressley has previously characterized student loan forgiveness as “a matter of racial and economic justice across our country,” Beyond generally easing the debt burden of Americans in general, debt relief has been identified as a policy to promote racial equity in the United States since Black college students graduate with average debt levels that are significantly higher than the amounts owed by their white peers.

As Schumer noted in the Zoom talk with Augustin and Williams, “Black students on average are more than 20% more likely to take out loans” and “half [of Black student loan holders] default on their loans within 12 years.” Perhaps most striking, Schumer noted that, 20 years after starting college, Black student loan borrowers still owe a whopping 95% of their debt, whereas white borrowers only owe 6% of theirs.

”Unless you’re, honestly, white and privileged, even if you go to school and get a degree like Veronica and myself, you’re still in a struggling position,” Augustin remarked.

Williams, who faces the challenges of overwhelming debt and the high cost of living in the Bay Area, said, “I don’t have my parents to lean on to ask for money." 

Schumer framed the debt relief plan as a racial justice issue, noting that it “would close the Black-white wealth gap by 28%.” He urged Williams, Augustin and anyone watching the video to share the $50,000 debt cancellation idea over social media and to contact Biden and urge him to cancel $50,000 in per person student debt.

“You are great young Americans and if we got rid of the student debt, you could have an even better future,” Schumer said.