Airbnb co-founder donates $700,000 to his alma mater
GWINNETT COUNTY
Brookwood High School in Snellville announces a charitable donation Dec. 2 from Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia Jr. to art and athletic programs. MARCUS INGRAM/GETTY IMAGES FOR BROOKWOOD HIGH
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By Alia Malik
alia.malik@ajc.com
By the time Joe Gebbia Jr. reached his senior year at Brookwood High School in Gwinnett County, he was already becoming a successful entrepreneur.

Gebbia, a devoted art student, was disappointed in the school’s senior T-shirts for the class of 2000, so he redesigned them and sold his own.

“People loved it,” recalled Gebbia, now 40, a co-founder of Airbnb. “It was a big hit.”


Gebbia is now creating the Joe Gebbia Visual Arts Endowment, providing his high school alma mater with $100,000 per year for five years to enhance the art program at the discretion of the faculty and principal. A former cross-country runner, he is also donating more than $200,000 for cross-country apparel and a new track.

“There were some pretty definitive moments at Brookwood, that put me in a place that gave me the opportunities that led me to where I am today,” Gebbia said.

“The donation is really to help create more of those opportunities.”

In Gebbia’s sophomore year, his art teachers — Barbara Willis and Jennifer Sams — recommended he apply to the Governor’s Honors Program, a monthlong summer school where he drew and painted alongside the other top student artists in the state. The summer program’s teacher encouraged Gebbia to apply to the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the nation’s top art colleges, and Gebbia was accepted.

“Design school is fantastic training to become an entrepreneur,” he said. “You have to envision something in your mind that doesn’t exist in the world, and then you have to create it, which is what every entrepreneur does.”

He also credits cross-country running, under coaches Jerry Arnold and Joe Carter, with giving him the willpower to work through the stress of starting a company and overcome the moments he wanted to quit.

William Bo Ford Jr., who has been the Brookwood principal since 2013, said in a news release, “It warms my heart that he is choosing to give back to the school and community in which he thrived. Brookwood is a special place. We are a family, and Mr. Gebbia is and will always be a part of the Brookwood family.”

Gebbia’s artistic endeavors started well before high school.

At Gwin Oaks Elementary and Five Forks Middle School in Gwinnett, art teachers also encouraged and looked out for him.

In the second grade at Gwin Oaks, he sold drawings of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to his classmates, who asked their parents for extra lunch money to buy them. The teacher told Gebbia to stop after parents called to ask why lunch had become so expensive.

“I was banking it at the time,” said Gebbia, who is now worth $12 billion.

Home internet was just beginning to take off while Gebbia was at Brookwood, and he got hooked.

He learned to code on his own and devoured the tech blogs of the era.

“As a guy in Snellville, I had no idea even where Silicon Valley was on a map,” he said. “It was some far-off place where the future lived.”

By the last day of his senior year, Gebbia figured out how to use a phone in Brookwood’s reception area to hack into the intercom system, broadcasting “School’s Out” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” to every homeroom. MTV recreated the prank three years later for its “High School Stories” show.

Gebbia lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but still has family and friends in metro Atlanta. His father, Joe Gebbia Sr., is a Brookhaven city councilman who did not run for re-election last month.

Gebbia Jr. is participating in Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge.

He made a $25 million personal donation to two San Francisco charities working to eradicate homelessness and help people facing economic hardship from the coronavirus pandemic. Gebbia is also chairman of Airbnb.org, a nonprofit that has housed frontline COVID-19 workers, Afghan refugees and people displaced by natural disasters.