I know about bridging racial divides. That’s why I salute Jerry Richardson

Former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson helped bridge racial divides, former NAACP chief Benjamin Chavis says.
Former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson helped bridge racial divides, former NAACP chief Benjamin Chavis says. AP

There is an old valid adage that says you will discover who your real friends are only during times of life’s unpopular challenges. I personally know how it feels to be falsely accused, unjustly ridiculed and punished as a member of the Wilmington Ten.

Yet it was during that 40-year struggle to finally clear the names and records of the Wilmington Ten that I also came to know that truth and fairness do eventually overcome the forces of racial division. It requires perseverance because social transformation does not happen overnight.

At a time when our nation is once again divided over diversity and inclusion, it’s important to stand up and speak out for those who have had the courage and compassion to build strong bridges over the racial divide in America. One of those heroes is former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

This is why I am speaking out today in support of him as a man whom I personally know, respect and affirm for his integrity, commitment to fairness and his outstanding contributions to help improve the quality of life of people in the Carolinas without limitations due to race, religion or social status.

A former Charlotte resident, I have personally known Jerry Richardson for more than 30 years. I headed the NAACP in 1993 and 1994.

At that time, Denny’s was accused of horrible racial discrimination. Instead of running away from the accusations, as CEO he met them head on and went above and beyond what was required. We enthusiastically signed an unprecedented $1.2 billion Fair Share Agreement between Denny’s and the NAACP that increased economic opportunity for African Americans.

Now, as president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, I have observed some less-than-flattering news coverage about him.

But if there were more business leaders like Jerry Richardson, our state and nation would be better places with more opportunities to understand and to ensure the value of inclusion and diversity. We have come a long way, but, like we say in grassroots movements for change, “We still have a long way to go to fulfill the American Dream for all Americans.”

As Jerry Richardson retreats from the NFL to a quieter private life as a philanthropist and businessman, just contemplate what the Carolinas and Charlotte would be like without him and the Panthers. As he retires from the NFL, the Richardson legacy will continue, and the economic impact of the Panthers and the philanthropy of Jerry Richardson will continue to grow.

At 82, he and his wife Rosalind should be given their private lives. He should not have to fight for his reputation. He should not have to see his friends and colleagues labeled “enablers.”

It is without any reservation that I rise to thank and salute Jerry Richardson for all that he has done and will continue to do to contribute to move Charlotte and the Carolinas forward. We shall overcome!

Chavis is president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and a civil rights activist.