Tony Williams & Al McFarlane

Tony Williams (left) and Al McFarlane

Part 1 of 2

Tony Williams is senior director of Governmental and External Affairs at Comcast.  In a recent interview at the Marcus Garvey House, I asked if he had a sense of confidence and hope that, despite challenges that persist, a victory, a win is in store for Black people in America.

I said I define a win for Black people as a win for humanity. Through that lens I view progress.

“I don't think that you can do this work and not have that hope or that confidence. But confidence is learned and often, our young kids don't come by that naturally. We're not taught that confidence in our community. So, it's hard when you grow up in a community that doesn't have investment or that has active disinvestment. You can look at it and you can lean in and you can feel the weight on you. We have to learn how to have that confidence,” Williams responded.

His observation triggered a memory that revealed a look inside the question. I told Williams that my wife Bobbie and I used to exercise walk in downtown skyways during winters. At five in the morning we’d walk from the 4th Street parking ramp through all the downtown buildings to the Hyatt Regency. And then walk back, a 90-minute round trip. One morning we saw a little white kid, maybe three, four years old walking, just ditty-bopping by himself through the skyway. Bobby and I said, "Look at that kid, where's his parent?” Mom was about a block away with the other baby in a stroller. We came to the conclusion that this mom is raising this kid to think that the world belongs to him. No fear. No caution. Even in an environment that certainly merited concern. On the other hand, as Black parents, know that we'd never let our child out of our sight.

That kind of confidence that you learn at that young age, William said, stays with you throughout the rest of your life. 

“If you sit in any of these conversations that venture capitalists have, one thing that is amazing to watch is these guys come in and no matter what their idea is, it's like shark tank. These guys are so confident that they're going to solve the world. They've got the solution. You should invest in their company. And that's because they've learned that confidence. They've learned that confidence. They learned that hope,” he said.

“They know how to push that. By contrast, you watch minorities come in and even with the power of the numbers, they're almost asking for forgiveness for taking up investors’ time,” Williams said. “We have to shift that thinking and teach mastery of the soft skills that others take for granted.  You have to teach confidence and hope. I spent a lot of time when I do talks and mentor young Black men about the need for to learn that skill. To teach that it is a skill. And that it's an important skill, particularly when you get into corporate America and into the business world.”

Williams was in town advancing Comcast’s leadership role in promoting the 2020 U.S. Census.

“I think there are a few things that are happening this year that are more important or more impactful to the Black community than the U.S. Census. It's not the sexiest topic given the focus on impeachment and the November elections. But when you talk about how the dollars flow from the federal government to our communities, to our schools, to our libraries or community centers, to our public institutions, how decisions are made about how do we have businesses invest and where do they put their money, where do developers support growth…these decisions are all based on the data that's collected in the US Census,” Williams said. “In our community there's a lot of also disinformation. There are folks who are invested in making sure that there is confusion around the Census. So it's very, very important for our communities to understand what the Census is, understand how the data is going to be used and why they should participate and who gets to participate.”

I asked why promoting the Census important for Comcast? For Williams, and the leadership at Comcast, it was a no-brainer.

“I was part of the original team that worked on building out and creating the Internet Essentials program. Internet Essentials is the country’s largest non-state sponsored broadband adoption program. We've connected over eight million low income individuals to the internet. And we did that by ignoring all of the noise around the problem and talking to the people in the community about what really were the barriers to getting folks online,” said Williams.

Communities saw the number one barrier was relevance, which translated to digital literacy.

“You have to teach digital literacy. You have to help break down the confusion around what the internet is and what it means to be online,” Williams said. “We empowered people who are already in the community to connect to the community and that's the same approach that we're bringing to the Census. We've always been dedicated to closing the digital divide and when the Census made the announcement that they were going to look at not just being online, but being online as the primary way that people take and participate in the Census, they said they anticipate almost 80 percent of all people who participate in the Census to do so online.

“It was common sense for us at Comcast to lean in and participate in the spirit of creating a public-private partnership. We are in 39 States, we serve thousands of communities and in every one of those communities, we have employees. Right here in the Twin Cities, we have 2,200 employees who every day, go to work, drive, go home, participate, their kids go to school, their families and children use playgrounds and community centers. And so, you can't talk about being healthy as a company without talking about our communities. It was second nature when our community started to talk to us about the importance of the Census to them, for us to lean in particularly given that connection to the digital divide and the role that the online Census would play.”

See full interview at Watch the “Conversations With Al McFarlane” interview as

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