Contributed by -

John Stankey


Great social movements are marked by clear turning points, when major shifts in attitude and understanding spur people to act with new urgency. 

We are in one such moment now. Covid-19’s devastation of minority communities and the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans have created an opportunity for change that, if sustained, could yield the kind of lasting action on racial equity, social justice and police reform that we have deferred for way too long. 

At this pivotal moment, it is crucial to recognize the tireless work organizations like the National Urban League have done for decades. We need to actively listen, learn and lean into their experience and perspectives. 

I’m proud that AT&T has been the Title Sponsor for the National Urban League’s State of Black America for more than a decade. While many organizations report facts and figures, we believe The State of Black America captures the heartbeat of the Black community. And on behalf of AT&T, I’m humbled to share a few of our thoughts on social justice. 

As Frederick Douglass told a cheering crowd in 1886 on the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation: 

Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe. 

The message of his words is simple: We, collectively as a society and as individuals, all share a responsibility to stop race-based injustice wherever it exists. Doing so is a moral and business imperative – not just for AT&T, but for all companies, communities, and citizens. 

In my nearly 35 years with this company, I have been encouraged by our advocacy to advance racial equity and justice. Indeed, “Stand for Equality” is one of our core corporate values. But I also recognize and acknowledge that much more needs to be done. 

Why it’s different this time 

For many in the Black community, 2020 has been devastating. Black Americans have been disproportionally affected by Covid-19. And, as Black communities grapple with high infection 

and death rates and endure the economic hardships of the pandemic, Black citizens continue to be subjected to horrific abuses by law enforcement and citizens with racist motivations. 

Against this backdrop, AT&T has taken a public stance on social justice and the ways in which racial inequities continue to manifest themselves across every facet of society – education, health care, economic opportunities, law enforcement and more. 

Some ask why a large corporation should care. To us, the answer is obvious: Our society doesn't work if it doesn't work equally for all. We hear the concerns and anxieties of our customers and our diverse workforce, especially our 34,000 Black employees. Doing what we can to address the root causes of racism and violence is the only right response. 

A crucial part of this moral imperative is to ensure an equitable justice system for all Americans and to redefine the relationship between law enforcement and all those they serve. Minimizing the potential for confrontation and conflict between civilians and police, in turn, supports safe communities that businesses and citizens need to thrive. 

At AT&T, we support immediate Congressional, state and city action to reform the country’s police and law enforcement system. Specifically, AT&T strongly supports the following reform principles, as outlined by the Business Roundtable: 

  • Community engagement: No effort to address policing issues will succeed without partnership and trust between law enforcement and their communities. We support increased investment in programs to promote community policing and increase police force diversity and community representation. 
  • Better data collection and transparency: Citizens deserve better information about law enforcement, especially in cases of misconduct and use of force. To obtain federal funding, police departments should be required to report on these areas, as well as demographic information on arrests and detainees.
  • Accountability: The vast majority of police officers are dedicated public servants. Officers or departments that abuse their positions must be held accountable – period. This could include a national misconduct and discipline registry and minimum Federal decertification standards to guide investigations. 
  • Minimum national policing standards: The continued crisis of excessive use of force, the loss of Black lives and the related loss of trust in law enforcement across many communities of color necessitates federal minimum standards for policing. That would include a ban on racial profiling, a minimum national standard on use of lethal and non-lethal force, a duty to intervene and a U.S. Department of Justice review and establishment of minimum credentialing and accreditation standards and procedures for officers. 

Our shared goals 

Members of the National Urban League and similar organizations have an intimate knowledge and experience with today’s vital social issues in ways that few do. AT&T remains committed to continuing to give them our full support. 

Throughout this period of tremendous change, we also recognize the power of connectivity to accelerate turning points in our society and serve as an equalizer. 

Better access to broadband means children whose schools are closed due to Covid-19 can take online classes. It means that the unemployed can use the internet to learn new skills that lead to better jobs. And it means bringing better, more accessible healthcare to senior citizens and others without easy access to a doctor. 

We agree with The National Urban League that connectivity is important to everyone – especially underrepresented and underserved individuals. AT&T’ commitment to this includes allowing schools to activate new lines of wireless data service for free for 60 days to connect students on their school-issued tablets, opening public Wi-Fi hotspots to all Americans, lifting home data caps, and enhancing our wireless and low-income broadband offers during the pandemic. Looking ahead, we believe Congress should pass legislation to assist those Americans who cannot afford fixed broadband and help ensure broadband availability for people living outside the reach of existing networks. These are two crucial steps toward a sustainable solution to connect all Americans. 

Systemic racial injustice is an enormously complex problem. Our nation has a difficult and lengthy task ahead of us. But we can look to the future with optimism, thanks to the work of the National Urban League and the growing awareness of the need for change within the American population. And I promise this organization and all its supporters that the AT&T family is standing with you to help. 

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Key partners supporting the National Urban League's mission for State of Black America Report

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