William E. Kennard
The Rainbow/PUSH Coalition
March 16, 1998
It's an honor to be here today to speak to the organization founded by Jesse Jackson. Jesse has been a hero to me for as long as I can remember.
Today it's almost exactly ten years since the Super Tuesday Primary of 1988, when Jesse Jackson won sixteen out of twenty states, won the popular vote, won the liberal vote, won the labor vote -- and made all people realize what most African-Americans had already known for years: Jesse Jackson is a force in American life. And perhaps the greatest orator of our time.
In fact, when I told my wife that I had been invited to come here today to address the Rainbow\Push Coalition, she asked me if Reverend Jackson would also be speaking. I told her yes, and she told me to keep my remarks short.
And I will.
I look around this room and see a lot of dear friends and colleagues -- people who have devoted their lives to the struggle to create opportunity for people of color. But as I was coming here today, I was thinking about someone else who cannot be here, but who helped get me here.
I've been thinking about my grandfather.
When he grew up, there were few good jobs an intelligent, hardworking man was allowed to do -- if his skin was black. One of them was to be a Pullman porter.
My grandfather became one.
But he soon tired of living his life on the road. He wanted a place to settle down where he could spend more time with his family.
And as he travelled the rails across the country in the early part of this century, he discovered that in California the racism was a little less virulent than it was in his hometown.
So my grandfather, James L. Kennard, moved his family to the little town of Monrovia, California. And there, he got a job as a janitor in a school.
My grandfather was a learned man. And he was a remarkable man. He was self-taught. He wrote beautiful prose, laced with quotations from the Bible and Shakespeare, all written out in the most beautiful calligraphy -- the kind of handwriting we see today only on the finest wedding invitations.
He had tremendous potential.
He could have contributed more to his society -- as a scholar or a professional. But he lived in a society that would not allow him to reach his full potential. His life would have been very different had he been born in a different time.
My grandfather deserved better. He deserved the chance to reach his fullest potential. But he did the best that he could. And he did a lot. He sent his children to college. He instilled in them a strong sense of values, respect for family, community and social justice.
So, when I hear myself introduced as the first African-American FCC Chairman, proud though I am, I think about all those people -- past and present -- who never got the opportunities I've been so fortunate to have.
And it reaffirms my obligation to do whatever I can to help others unlock their potential to contribute to society.
So today, I want to talk about potential, promise, and opportunity.
And from the vantage point of an FCC Chairman, it's clear that the field of telecommunications offers keys to unlock the potential for millions of Americans today.
I saw this firsthand not long ago. A few weeks ago I went with Congressman Donald Payne to Newark, New Jersey, which is in his congressional district. We went there to visit an elementary school which has a brand new computer lab for the kids. And I met one of the students, a nine-year-old named John. I had the privilege of showing John how to access the Internet for the first time. It happened to be around Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, so we found a web site about Dr. King. And we found all sorts of interesting information about Dr. King's life. Then afterwards I asked John what he thought about the Internet.
His whole face lit up as he said, "This is much more fun than learning from books."
And it occurred to me at that moment, that young John had summed up what is so profound about telecommunications in America today. It is a revolution that is changing fundamentally the way people get information -- and write and think and work and communicate.
And it holds the promise of unleashing the potential of millions of Americans. But only if we create the right conditions for positive change.
Everyone in this room knows the story of the civil rights movement in this country. We remember the big events of that movement -- the March on Washington, Selma, and Little Rock.
But we also remember the smaller events that shaped our lives. In my case, it happened in San Francisco, where community activists complained that there were no African-Americans in the management of television stations in that city.
And one of the stations created a summer internship program to give young minority students a glimpse of what its like to work in a television station. They hired a student from the University of California at Berkeley, a student from San Jose State, and a student from Stanford University -- that was me. Today, the guy from Berkeley is a CBS correspondent. The guy from San Jose State is a TV producer.
And I'm here.
So I'm here because people in San Francisco went to their television stations and said that it was unacceptable not to have any black people working in local TV.
They created the conditions for positive change.
And we are the beneficiaries of their courage and hard work. Just as we are the beneficiaries of the work of Jesse Jackson, John Conyers and Bobby Rush. They too created conditions for positive change.
Well today in telecommunications, the only thing that is constant is change. You see this revolution in the workplace, where six out of every ten new jobs are computer-related.
You see it in the home -- four out of every ten homes have a personal computer.
You see it on the street when every second person walking down Michigan Avenue in this city seems to have a cell phone the size of a wallet pressed to his ear.
Telecommunications is now 14% of the economy -- and growing. The United States will need 1.3 million new workers in information technology over the next eight years. We're going to need 95,000 new computer scientists, analysts and programmers each year.
Revolutionary change in our economic life. Revolutionary change in our social life.
I often say that the Information Highway can bring us together as a Nation, or it can divide us. It's not unlike the conventional kind of highways -- freeways and expressways.. And we in the African-American community know something about those highways.
The great federal highway projects of the post World War II era transformed commerce in this country. They brought our country together in many ways. They created jobs and commerce for many Americans. But they also left a sad legacy for many in the minority community.
And you can see that legacy in almost every city in America. You see it where highways bypassed minority communities; or walled them off from the mainstream of commerce. And today you can travel to almost any city in America and see those great superhighways transporting jobs and economic opportunity away from the inner city to the suburbs.
Well, just like those conventional highways, the Information Highway can be a bridge that brings us together as a Nation, or one that divides us.
We must make sure that the Information Highway has on-ramps and off-ramps into every neighborhood. We must make sure that this revolution of technology helps people not just in Dupage County but also on Division Street.
We've got work to do. Because that's not happening today.
Not when 78% of schools in affluent communities have Internet access -- but only half the schools in low-income areas.
Not when the percentage of white children with home computers is triple the percentage of black and Latino kids.
Not when only 2.8% of the owners of the broadcast stations in this country are minority. And the number is declining. We must do better.
How do we do it? We can start right now. We can start right now by creating an environment for positive change.
Let me talk for a minute about broadcasting.
I got my start in the broadcast business. And I remember the time almost 20 years ago when the FCC first created policies to advance minority ownership of broadcast stations. Tax certificates. Distress sales. These policies worked.
Let's not forget that the FCC didn't just decide to do these things. It didn't just stumble upon these ideas. I know something about the FCC and that's not the way things happen. Those policies were created because people in the minority community told their government that it was unacceptable for us to live in a society which denies minorities ownership of the broadcast media.
Just like those community activists in San Francisco that helped me get a foothold in this business -- people came to government and they created conditions for positive change; and government responded.
We need to recreate those conditions -- not just at the FCC, but in all areas of government. I can't do this alone. We need to create the sense of urgency and imperative about these issues that says to all people in government and industry: the revolution in technology is changing our society. And we want this revolution to change our society for the better. We want this revolution to be inclusive. We insist on it.
Now I'd like to focus on three areas: access; employment; and ownership.
Access to communication technology for people like Tiffany Johnson.
She's a senior at a school in Maryland -- the other day I saw a story about her in the Washington Post.
She's an honor student. But her parents can't afford a computer. "It's totally impossible to function without a computer now for school," she says. So when she has an assignment she skips lunch or class to use the school computer. Or she tracks down a classmate who has one.
Tiffany realizes that her grades will suffer against classmates who turn in impeccably typed papers with fancy graphics. She also sees her friends going on the Internet getting material in minutes that takes her hours to track down in libraries.
But she's very motivated. And she attends a good school.
We have to guarantee ready access to communication technology for everyone. We need to make sure that all Americans can get onto the on-ramp of the Information Highway -- because that's the on-ramp to opportunity.
That's why I'm proud that President Clinton and Vice President Gore have challenged this country to wire all schools to the Internet by the year 2000.
We have a way to do that through the universal service fund for schools and libraries. But many people in the country question whether we should make the investment, as a country, in bringing equality of access to technology to our schools. I say that we can't afford not to make this investment. This debate is every bit as profound as the debate in this country about whether we should have racial equality in education. I believe that the stakes are just as high. And Tiffany's life proves that.
Second area: employment.
Right now there are 350,000 vacant jobs in the high-tech industry in America. Think about that. Out of the four million unemployed men and women in this country, we lack the social mechanism to find 350,000 people with the skills to earn money companies want to pay.
There are those who urge us to look abroad for those jobs. They say, "Enlarge the immigration quotas. Let us bring skilled workers in from other countries."
I say, "Let's train the people we have at home."
We need to ensure that people get the skills and training they need to get these great jobs. Government can't do this alone. We need to form partnerships with industry. Companies need to find creative ways to train and mentor. They need to help with education and training, help with funding and infrastructure and job placement.
There are some exciting programs around. Programs that work.
I saw one recently in Richmond, Virginia: the HBCU-Technology Community Partnership program.
It was founded by Mark Warner, the successful telecommunications entrepreneur who ran for the U.S. Senate in Virginia. Mark brought together Virginia's historically black colleges and universities with the high-tech community. Students get summer internship programs and job experience. The schools get help with curriculum and with both hardware and software.
That's not the only one. In East Palo Alto, California -- where I used to broadcast radio shows when I was in college -- NPO "Plugged In" is a computer center teaching minority communities about the information superhighway in partnership with Silicon Valley companies. It was made possible by funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Intel Corporation.
The Foundation for Minorities in Media is another one. It's a program run by broadcasters to identify and train students to become players in the new worlds of media.
The big debate in ownership today is about consolidation.
Recently, I was talking to a group of large radio station owners. They came in to talk about the consolidation that's been going on in radio during the last two years. They were arguing this is good for America. They made the case that consolidation is revitalizing some struggling stations in smaller markets.
But when I asked "What about minority voices?," the owners responded that they can hire black managers. They won't interfere with their managers' editorial decisions. They'll be responsive.
When I asked "What about ownership?," and "How do we give minorities a stake in the airwaves that serve their communities?," the owners responded that everybody's going public. If African-Americans want to own a piece of a radio station, they can buy stock in Westinghouse.
This may be fine, but I think that they were missing the point. In a world where most Americans get most of their news about their communities from broadcasting, how can we have a strong democracy when most stations are concentrated in the hands of only a few? And it's a few who do not reflect a growing part of our nation. In fact, by the year 2050, America will be 47% African-American, Hispanic, and Asian.
If we develop into a nation of technological have and have nots, divided by income, race, and ethnicity, it will tear this country apart.
Reverend Jackson calls it the resegregation of the American media. And it is real.
That's why, this year I plan to complete a proceeding to explore new incentives to promote minority media ownership.
That's why I support ways to restore a properly structured tax certificate program -- one that is narrowly tailored and provides benefits to bona fide minority ventures.
And that's why I'm interested in low power broadcasting -- the possibility of creating a low power radio service so that small businesses and churches and community groups can use the airwaves to broadcast to their communities.
Now, since becoming FCC Chairman, I have talked a lot about ownership. But too often when I am talking with minority audiences about ownership, the conversation focuses exclusively on broadcasting -- television and radio. Minority ownership in broadcasting is incredibly important. Broadcasting is still the most powerful cultural medium in our society.
But let us not be so focused on broadcasting that we forget other opportunities. We can't afford to do that. You might ask, "How can I own a telephone company?" Well, you can. Wall Street has poured over $14 billion into competitive local exchange companies since February 1996. And among these start-ups are minority owned and operated companies.
Remember the challenges: access; employment; and ownership.
When I think about those challenges, I sometimes think about the man I began talking about: my grandfather.
After my grandfather moved to California, my father was born. The schools in California were segregated. And when my father was about five, my grandfather sent him off to the school closest to their home -- which was the white school.
And the principal sent him right home. Then the principal called my grandmother and told her that my father would have to go to the segregated school much farther away.
Well, the next day my grandparents dressed him again, and sent him off to the white school. The principal sent him home again.
My grandfather told my father, "This is your neighborhood. That's where you should go." And sent him back again.
This went on for several days until finally, the principal relented, and decided to let my father go to school.
By the time this story got to me, it was family legend. And the moral of the story always went something like this: "If you know you're right, and you keep fighting for what you know is right, you'll win. You may not get what you want right away. But you've got to keep fighting, and you will win."
Well, we are right.
We are right when we fight for a communications revolution that creates opportunity for all Americans.
We need to keep fighting.
We need to keep fighting together.
If we do that, we will win. And we will make a difference for the next generation of Americans.
- FCC -