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Changing Colors

I've been traveling in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, joyfully soaking up the changing colors of autumn and the company of family. At my brother and sister-in-law's house, I met a neighbor who is an AT&T project manager, and we had a great conversation about a recent video of AT&T's CEO, Randall Stephenson, speaking to a large group of employee resource managers.

Mr. Stephenson's speech is a powerful and personal account of an epiphany. He described his moment of revelation when he abruptly understood how important race was to Chris, a dear friend who is black—and Stephenson was incredulous that he and his friend of many years had never had a conversation about race

After expressing a newfound understanding for the value of the Black Lives Matter movement, he concludes his talk with an exhortation to the AT&T employees to go out and begin the difficult discussions of race, telling them:

Do not tolerate each other. Work hard. Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other. . . . Start the discussion with WHY, why does my colleague feel this way; and then we can discover what needs to be done.

Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO

Please watch this exciting, important speech here.


Not surprisingly, an AT&T company slogan is "Every voice matters," and DiversityInc recently ranked AT&T as #4 on its list of Top 50 Companies for Diversity. Can an international conglomerate really have an impact on how we feel about and address race in our country? I believe it can; it can change the color of these conversations from black-and-white to a vast palette of hues, tones, and vibrancy. My brother in NC reminded me that Charlotte emerged from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement as a leader among Southern states in correcting Jim Crow laws and traditions--and that Charlotte's thriving business community set the stage for this advancement by not tolerating workplace segregation and anti-black hiring practices. Now AT&T is urging its employees to move beyond tolerance--mere tolerance is for cowards, says Stephenson--and blaze new trails of understanding and respect through dialogue.

Because "Every voice matters" has so much in common with the purpose of this Speak Right On blog, I plan in upcoming weeks to reach out to Mr. Stephenson and propose workshops designed to facilitate those difficult discussions of race. ​I want to begin by inviting Mr. Stephenson and his friend to read chapters 8 and 9 in Speak Right On: Conjuring the Slave Narrative of Dred Scott. Those of you who have read my novel will remember that these two chapters depict a relationship between Dred Scott and Nat Turner: two slave boys who chose vastly different approaches to freedom: one through speaking out in the courts and the other through bloody rebellion.

Are you wearing blinders?
Skin color is not a costume

Comments 3

 
Guest - jmgagan@earthlink.net on Sunday, 23 October 2016 18:56

Mr. Stephenson's speech is amazing! It fits right in with Speak Right On. I am very pleased you are going to contact him and propose workshops to facilitate race relationship conversations. Good luck and may this soon come to be!!

Mr. Stephenson's speech is amazing! It fits right in with Speak Right On. I am very pleased you are going to contact him and propose workshops to facilitate race relationship conversations. Good luck and may this soon come to be!!
Mary Neighbour on Sunday, 23 October 2016 20:04

Glad you liked the video. I think with enough follow-through we're likely to see a giant leap forward in race relations!

Glad you liked the video. I think with enough follow-through we're likely to see a giant leap forward in race relations!
Andrew Adleman on Monday, 24 October 2016 17:50

"Every voice matters" is wonderful. Last night I re-watched the movie Invictus about Nelson Mandela. It occurred to me how silly it is to judge people by the color of the skin. -- Andrew Adleman

"Every voice matters" is wonderful. Last night I re-watched the movie Invictus about Nelson Mandela. It occurred to me how silly it is to judge people by the color of the skin. -- Andrew Adleman
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