Sometimes no good deed goes unpunished. That’s exactly what political pundit, Hip-Hop Republican and CNN/TheRoot.com contributor Lenny McAllister discovered this week when he was fired from Chicago’s premiere black political talk station WVON AM 1690.
This is the station that put “Soul Train” host Don Cornelius on, that gave Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and several other prominent African Americans a chance to shine on air while speaking out about the nation’s poor and downtrodden.
So what led to his firing? Speaking out for the poor and downtrodden.
McAllister is a nationally known Republican political commentator who came to WVON earlier this year with the promise of having his own show. Soon his “Launching Chicago with Lenny McAllister” show was burning up the airwaves with his mix of humor, right-wing rhetoric and inside commentary. McAllister had a long career of mentoring young men in prison and rough communities based on his upbringing in Pittsburgh. He also was involved in a mentoring program for kids from Chicago’s West Side. It was that kind of compassion that got him in trouble at WVON.
On July 19th McAllister ran into one of his mentees in the city who was a bit down on his luck. McAllister had bonded with the student in large part because of their similar backgrounds. Both were teen fathers, and both had worked hard to care for their children while taking full responsibility for their actions.
His 21-year-old mentee had a 2.8 GPA at Chicago State, had been named Outstanding Cadet in his ROTC unit, was night manager at a local McDonald’s and would be deployed to the Middle East later this year. And to top it off he was a father who was supporting his 20-year-old girlfriend and their 6-day-old son. Tragically, the mentee’s son died suddenly on a day early in July. According to McAllister, the mentee called his boss Keith Allen at McDonald’s to ask for a day off to make funeral arrangements and be with his girlfriend. The owner allegedly said something along the lines of “I don’t care – if you miss work you’re fired.” The student went to see about his girlfriend and dead child and was fired the next day. The young man told McAllister the story and the pundit went into rescue mode.
McAllister called the McDonald’s boss trying to find out the problem but said he was given the run around. So he went to the airwaves, calling out Keith Allen, who is an African-American and owns five local McDonald’s franchises. On his show, he called for a “McDonald’s Holiday,” essentially a boycott of Allen’s McDonald’s restaurants.
McAllister recalled for me what he said over the air: “If this was a white business owner and a black college student, you’d all be marching down Martin Luther King Drive (in Chicago) singing, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Well, this is a black business owner and a black college student willing to serve our country and care for his family. What are you going to do about it?” Listeners were furious about the firing.
The local NAACP president David Lowery endorsed the boycott and offered the student the chance to apply for a job at one of their local business partners. That’s when, according to McAllister, the big white clown hand of Ronald McDonald came smashing down on McAllister’s protest movement.
A representative of the BMOA (Black McDonald’s Operators of America) called WVON threatening to pull out all of their advertising if the boycott wasn’t called off, said McAllister. Executives at WVON told McDonald’s that his tenure at the station was under “review,” which everyone knows is business speak for “about to get fired.”
Last Tuesday, after only five days of “protesting,” McAllister announced on his show that donations had paid for the funeral of the 6-day-old child, and that the issue had been resolved between Kevin Allen and the NAACP. The boycott was off.
The next day, McAllister was fired by WVON.
On the surface this might just appear to be a story of a guy going a little too far to help out a kid in need. But there is a larger narrative here that needs to be understood about how the African-American community deals with our youth, and our business practices. We need to learn as a community of entrepreneurs and business owners how to better work with each other rather than turn every conflict into contest of who’s a bigger badass.
When you look at the cast of characters in this fight, everyone involved thought they were doing the “right” thing or were within their “rights” to act. The grieving young father had never missed work before, and asked for time off to look after his dead child and made the moral decision to be with his family in a time of tragedy. The store owner has a right to hire and fire whomever he wants for breaking his rules no matter how draconian they seem to be.
McAllister, as an advocate, has a right to speak out on behalf of the little guy who is getting screwed by a boss, the system or whomever. And WVON has to keep their business functional. So when everyone thinks they’re right, how come so many people lose in the situation? The local black-owned McDonald’s takes a hit because one guy wouldn’t be reasonable. WVON takes a hit because now Micky D’s wants to play funny, and McAllister loses a job for doing the kind of advocacy work that made WVON famous to begin with.
If cooler heads had prevailed the whole thing could’ve been a win for everyone. The BMOA could’ve simply asked that the holiday be stopped, and WVON could’ve simply asked Lenny to apologize on the air. Everyone makes money and is happy. Instead, what happens all too often within African-American businesses is everybody feels like they have to show who the bigger power is, rather than make decisions that help everyone.