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Verizon Wireless, Star Tribune leaders say businesses can mobilize social change – Part 1

Quality of life problems for African Americans in Ft. Myers, Fla. included inadequate public transportation, the lack of tax dollars going to Black neighborhoods, and bank lending problems for residents who wanted to buy homes. Quality of life problems for African Americans in Ft. Myers, Fla. included inadequate public transportation, the lack of tax dollars going to Black neighborhoods, and bank lending problems for residents who wanted to buy homes. At his direction, said J. Keith Moyer, the daily Ft. Myers News Press took on a year-long series entitled “Far From The Dream,” referencing the America of fairness and equality Dr. Martin Luther King so publicly established as the moral vision for the nation. “Every month for a year we did a multi-page take out section on the different problems,” he said.

As a consequence, said Moyer, now publisher and president of the Star Tribune, “roads started getting paved. Busses started going in the right direction. The newspaper won a Robert F. Kennedy grand prize award for that work. That’s why I got into the business.”

Moyer, joined Star Tribune chief editor, Anders Gyllenhaal, and Viki L Radden, newly appointed president of Verizon Wireless Great Plaines Region, in exploring how personal histories shape business practices and how business practices in turn help shape community development. They appeared last Monday on the KFAI broadcast of “Conversations with Al McFarlane – The Public Policy Forums at Lucille’s Kitchen”.

Radden said the Verizon Wireless region she heads includes 18 retail locations and some 200 employees in Minnesota. Most are located in densely populated urban areas. The workforce, she said, is reflective of the community.

The Star Tribune, said Moyer, has over 2,700 employees, with over 300 working in the news operations as reporters and photographers. He said approximately 10 percent of the news staff is African American. He said recruitment of African Americans is a major priority. “Executives have their compensation tied to it. We have to have a workforce that reflects all groups.”

In response to questions from The Rev. Randolph Staten, Moyer said he was not sure how much business the company does with Black owned firms, but agreed to have future dialogue on the topic.

Chicano artist Ray Roybal and Liberian businessman Wilford Harris engaged the executives on the question of cultural identity and on the issue of problem identification. Roybal challenged whether the news organization has attained the degree of structural inclusively to support its claim that it “covers communities of color.”

Gyllenhaal said, “We are trying to get away from celebrating communities by independence days, countries’ birthdays or festivals. The paper should reflect that and we should not miss any of these holidays, but if you are looking for true and deep coverage, that is not the way to do it.”

Harris said the newspaper and media in general, of late, have done an excellent job of reporting about the civil strife in Liberia. But he said the industry as well as the nation’s public education apparatus must take responsibility for American’s ignorance of the unique relationship between the United States and Liberia.

“It is a shame that nobody knows about Liberia, the country that carried America on its back economically. It is the only country that is America’s reflection in the mirror,” said Harris referring to the creation of the Liberian nation by Americans to repatriate Africans freed from American slavery before and after the American Civil War.

Calling the frank exchanges an “excellent dialogue” Staten said it is good for corporations to say they support diversity and urged the executives to be conscious and intentional in buying goods and services from Black-owned businesses as part of an economic development strategy.

Radden heads Verizon Wireless sales and overall company operations in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Radden comes to Verizon Wireless from Microsoft Corp., where she served as director of Cent

September 22, 2003
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