Tolerance is for Cowards

By Thomas Gryta—Sep 29, 2016

When AT&T Inc.’s Chief Executive Randall Stephenson took the stage last week to talk to hundreds of employees, he didn’t give the usual corporate pep talk.

Instead, the 56-year-old Oklahoma native talked, often in personal terms, about how racial tensions are ripping apart American communities. He called the recent shootings of black men and police officers “troubling” and urged his employees to begin a conversation to find common ground.

“Our communities are being destroyed by racial tension and we are too polite to talk about it,” Mr. Stephenson told the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation. The comments were delivered Friday night and posted on YouTube by an attendee.

“It is a difficult, tough issue. It’s not pleasant to discuss. It takes work, it takes time, it takes emotion,” he said, “but we have to start communicating and if this is a dialogue that is going to begin at AT&T, I felt like it probably ought to start with me.”

It is a rare step by the leader of one of the country’s biggest corporations into the delicate issue of race relations. AT&T’s Dallas headquarters is just blocks from where five police officers were killed during a July protest that was sparked by fatal shootings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota. About 43% of the company’s more than 270,000 U.S. workforce are nonwhite, according to an AT&T report.

AT&T has weighed in other political controversies in the past. In 2014, it spoke out against a Russian antigay law ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics. In 1975, it was the first major corporation to ban discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation.

Mr. Stephenson’s speech centered on the story of an African-American physician and veteran whom the telecom boss described as one of “his closest friends in the world.” Mr. Stephenson said he was stunned he wasn’t aware of the racism his friend faced growing up in Louisiana and throughout his life. He said his friend makes sure to carry his driver’s license when he jogs in his own neighborhood in case he gets questioned by police.

“If two very close friends of different races don’t talk openly about this issue that is tearing our communities apart, how do we expect to find common ground and solutions for what’s a really serious, serious problem?” he said.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

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