In July, I wrote about boycotting companies that don't actively speak out against injustice and oppression perpetrated against the Black community. The CEO of AT&T has provided one of the best examples of how a company can voice support and concern about major issues that affect us.
Randall Stephenson, the CEO of AT&T, was the keynote speaker at an AT&T ERG conference. Stephenson shared a personal story about one of his closest friends, who happens to be a black physician who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stephenson revealed an epiphany he had when confronted by statements his friend made. He used that experience to illustrate how his view on diversity, inclusion, and Black Lives Matter was recently influenced. Because of this speech, Stephenson has become one of the most outspoken corporate leaders concerning the Black Lives Matter movement.
Stephenson admitted he had always been "confused" by the racial views of his friend, But when he saw a video of him addressing a mostly white church congregation about being refused service at restaurants, being called "boy" and even fearing being stopped by police in his own neighborhood, Stephenson finally understood where those views came from. Stephenson stated, "Our "Tolerance is for cowards" … "Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not make waves." … "communities are being destroyed by racial tension and we're too polite to talk about it."
"If two very close friends of different races don't talk openly about this issue, that's tearing our communities apart, how do we expect to find common ground and solutions for what's a really serious, serious problem?" he asked. Stephenson ended his speech with the statement, "If this is a dialogue that's to begin at AT&T, I feel like it probably ought to start with me," he received a standing ovation. Watch the speech for yourself below.
Employee Resource Groups – or ERGs, are groups within AT&T that provide like-minded employees a way to connect over a shared background and experience. The 12 ERGs include Community NETwork — The African American Telecommunications Professionals of AT&T, HACEMOS — The Hispanic/Latino Employee Association of AT&T, LEAGUE at AT&T — The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies Employees of AT&T and other groups.
I switched my home Internet provider from Charter to AT&T two days ago. For those receiving SNAP (food stamp) benefits, AT&T offers high-speed Internet for only $5 or 10 per month, depending on the speed available in your area. For additional information, see Access from AT&T.
Don't get me wrong, AT&T still has problems. In fact, I ran into some minor irritation caused by AT&T during the shipping and installation and I'm sure like with many companies, I'll have issues moving forward. However, Stephen's epiphany seems genuine and as CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world, he can have a real effect on institutionalized racism, at least within his own organization. We must support the people and institutions that support us, otherwise, why should we expect them to do it. You can expect Randall Stephenson to be criticized for his public support of Black Lives Matters. Some will comment that he is a CEO and his responsibility is to the stockholders and he shouldn't be talking about BLM. Now as an AT&T customer, my voice will carry more weight if the stockholders of AT&T respond too negatively. Remember how our support of WNBA players and calls to boycott caused the league to reverse fines against players speaking out?
Maybe now, other CEOs will be prompted to reexamine their own support or lack of support of this issue. There may be some who want to speak out but have remained silent, fearing the repercussions and may now find the courage to speak. One person can make a tremendous difference. After Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem, other athletes all over the country followed his example and joined his protest, creating a movement.