For years now, people have been working at how best to defeat the Black unemployment problem in the United States, which has grown to epidemic proportions amid America’s latest longstanding recession. African-American joblessness is now at about 17 percent, almost eight points higher than general unemployment. While economists and politicians debate about how best to solve the jobs crisis, and people like Cornel West and Tavis Smiley demand satisfaction for the Black community, BET founder Robert L. Johnson has a theory of his own. (Johnson sold BET to Viacom in 2000).
It would make sense that Johnson, the world’s first African-American billionaire, would look to business leaders to help develop jobs. But would you think the NFL could help, too? According to Johnson, one answer to Black unemployment may lie in the NFL’s so-called “Rooney Rule.” Established in 2003, the Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior operations positions — because the key to a diverse operation is a diverse candidate pool from which to draw employees. This is the basis for Johnson’s new idea, “the RLJ Rule.”
“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,” said Johnson in a statement.
In practice, the RLJ Rule would ask companies to do two things: 1. Interview a minimum of two African-American candidates for every job opening, and 2. Interview at least two Black-owned businesses when looking to contract vendors. The goal is to see success in the world of business that the NFL has seen through the Rooney Rule — since its inception, the NFL now has eight minority head coaches and five minority general managers.
“I am urging corporate America to embrace this idea of providing fairness and equity in employment opportunities at senior management levels and in growth opportunities for African-American businesses,” said Johnson, who is sending letters to the Congressional Black Caucus and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others.
Having Blacks in high places in business is important on its face, of course, as diversity in all fields is commendable. But there’s another reason it would be great to have Blacks in charge at more companies: Black business owners are far likelier to hire more African-Americans than white business owners. In other words, putting more Blacks in charge means even more Blacks beyond them are going to get jobs.
No word yet on whether anyone will agree to the RLJ Rule. But congratulations to Johnson for trying. Surely there are millions of African-Americans out of work hoping his pleas don’t fall on deaf ears.
(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)