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BET’s Robert L. Johnson Offers New Plan for African American Employment
Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder, Robert L. Johnson, certainly knows how to succeed in business. He created the cornerstone African American focused television station in 1980 and it continues to be the main network for rap and hip hop music and urban-themed movies and television series, viewed in over 90 million homes worldwide. Under Johnson’s leadership the network became the first Black-owned business on the New York Stock Exchange and Johnson became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the country. In 2001 he became the country’s first African American billionaire, even before selling the network to Viacom in 2003 for a reported $3 billion. Though he has received harsh criticism for some of BET’s content and for selling the network to Viacom, a non-Black mega-corporation, his business savvy and capacity to amass wealth can not be denied.
Now Johnson offers a plan for getting more African Americans into positions that will bring them the wealth he has enjoyed. The plan he is proposing is similar to “the Roooney Rule” of the NFL, a 2003 strategy adopted to bring in more African American coaches. In a press release Johnson stated, “The RLJ Rule is principally designed to encourage companies to voluntarily establish a ‘best practices’ policy to identify and interview the tremendous talent pool of African American managers and African American companies that are often overlooked because of traditional hiring or procurement practices.” It is Johnson’s goal to get more African Americans into high-ranking corporate positions and increase the amount of African American firms receiving corporate vendor supply and service contracts. He is asking that corporations commit to interviewing at least two African American individuals or firms whenever positions are available.
This strategy is intended to have a trickle-down effect, African Americans in high ranking positions are more likely to employ other people of color, but it neglects the overwhelming number of African Americans without a bachelor’s or graduate’s degree that are currently unemployed and would not immediately benefit from the plan. Perhaps Johnson’s plan is plausible for long-term improvements, but for those who are not qualified (or interested) in a high-ranking corporate position and need immediate employment what should they do, sit home and watch BET?