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Celebrating Industry Diversity in Action

The T. Howard foundation will finally get to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its Diversity Awards Dinner on Monday (May 7), after a March snowstorm forced organizers to postpone the event.

Having already reached record numbers in terms of attendees and revenue prior to its postponement, the event at Cipriani Wall Street in New York recognizes and celebrates industry leaders and companies committed to increasing diversity. This year, T. Howard honors AMC Networks with its Corporate Leadership Award and Univision Communications with its Corporate Excellence Award. 

Jo Pamphile, president and CEO of the organization that helps place college-age people of color into internship programs with entertainment companies around the country, spoke with Multichannel News about the event.

MCN: Put into perspective what the 25th anniversary of the T. Howard fundraising dinner means for both the organization and the industry.

Jo Pamphile: The 25th anniversary dinner marks 25 years of forging a way of not only being able to impact the industry from a diversity standpoint, but to gain supporters to buy into that mission as well. We have been able to do that basically through our programs and services. We have been able to develop our internship program through our very strict screening process to bring the best we can to offer the industry as internship opportunities with the objective that they will be qualified and eligible for hire. 

As a result of that commitment on our part to make that happen — as well as the industry’s response — we’ve been able to expand our programs and services tremendously. This past year we placed 174 interns; a big difference from the 35 in the summer when we started back 25 years ago.

MCN: What has transpired over the past 25 years within the industry that has allowed for such an increase in the employment of T. Howard interns?

JP: Well, I think the idea that these interns can be helpful to these companies is the key — this isn’t just a social obligation so to speak; they are contributing. The industry itself is growing and has expanded into multicultural markets, and a viable percentage of the revenue the industry generates comes from multicultural markets. So it does make sense that the representatives of those markets can make a contribution within the industry as well.

MCN: What can attendees expect to see during the 25th anniversary dinner?

JP: What’s great is that we’ll be able to show off the success stories of our interns during the dinner. Our two co-emcees for the dinner are alumni of the program and work as on-air talent today as a result of having interned through the foundation. Anna-Lysa Gayle is a news reporter at the Washington affiliate of ABC [Sinclair Broadcast Group’s WJLA]; and Lawrence Jackson started out at Revolt TV after his internship before moving on to MTV, doing their Total Request Live reboot before getting scooped up by NBCUniversal and Snapchat, where he’s on a news program.

Also, we will recognize four colleges and universities that we work with because it all starts with the recruitment of interns. We’ll also look at those companies who have participated in our program and have addressed the issue of diversity. 

AMC has been a great contributor financially by supporting the dinner and has also been a member of the board of directors for several years. Actor Colman Domingo from Fear the Walking Dead will present the [Corporate Leadership] award to [AMC Networks CEO] Josh Sapan. Coleman is an actor but he’s also a writer, a screenwriter and has that distinction of being a diverse person within the industry, so we want to keep reinforcing the message of the effectiveness and success that companies are having with diverse people.

Univision has been for years a supporter of the foundation and a partner in a way that is helpful to us and meaningful to us. Robert Rodriguez, who is the founder and chairman of El Rey Network, is going to be making that presentation to [Univision Communications CEO] Randy Falco. We feel very strongly about demonstrating the fact that diversity is not only something that is attainable, but that it works.

MCN: What’s in store for T. Howard over the next 25 years?

JP: This is something we talk about all the time. I think the international internship idea is something I’ve talked about for some time and that may be looming closer to becoming a possibility than before, mainly because many of our board member companies have international markets. I can envision, say, a marketing team that’s working in London and is traveling back and forth — what an opportunity it would be if we could have an intern that’s working with them and traveling back and forth with them as well.

The other area that we are working very immediately in is technology. We’ve had in this year’s class about 20 tech students — engineers and technology majors. That is obviously a needed part of the industry, so we are really gearing up to meet that need.

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.