Johnson brings diversity to region

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In continuing with their mission to embrace inclusion and insure the region’s growth by attracting, retaining and elevating a diverse pool of talent, Vibrant Pittsburgh will partner with founder and former chairman of Black Entertainment Television’s Robert L. Johnson’s new initiative, OppsPlace.com, a website that is focused on creating opportunities for qualified minority candidates and businesses.

RobertJohnson
ROBERT L. JOHNSON
(Photo by Melissa Golden)

OppsPlace, which was launched in February and is ran by The RLJ Companies, in collaboration with Symplicity Corporation, is an innovative platform that connects the country’s top minority professionals and small businesses with fortune 500 companies that are committed to diversity and inclusion.

“I am elated by the partnership. Vibrant Pittsburgh is a unique undertaking by a community that is diversity focused. I wish more companies would take up the idea of Vibrant Pittsburgh,” said Johnson, founder and chairman of RLJ Companies. “The idea that the whole community is better when it’s diverse.”

The announcement is expected to be made March 28 at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

The website allows minority candidates who are seeking jobs and minority owned businesses who are looking to do business with big corporations to upload their resume and create a profile at no cost and gives corporations the opportunity to submit job posting, information on contracts, and search for qualified minority candidates. Johnson said OppsPlace is not only cost effective and beneficial to corporations, but it also assists in the hiring of minority talent that may often be overlooked. As of now, there are more than 30 corporations that have joined OppsPlace as charter members. Corporations that include Giant Eagle, FedEx, PNC, BYN Mellon, General Motors, Colgate-Palmolive and more.

“We’re very excited (about the partnership). OppsPlace is a tool among a strategy that we are applying here at Vibrant Pittsburgh,” said Melanie Harrington, CEO, Vibrant Pittsburgh. “We have to make sure we promote the array of opportunities that Pittsburgh has to offer.” She said that by joining the website it will in turn be an opportunity to have more individuals visiting the region and Vibrant Pittsburgh’s sites to see what there is to offer.

Along with giving corporations the access to top minority candidates, Johnson would like to see more companies implement the “RLJ Rule,” his version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which says that at least one minority should be interviewed for coaching and general manager positions. In the RLJ Rule, companies would voluntarily interview at least two qualified minorities for positions of vice president and higher and interview at least two qualified minority businesses for vendor or supplier contracts before selecting one.

“I applaud Art Rooney for his foresight. It enhances opportunities to all ethnic groups and makes sure that qualified minority candidates are considered,” said Johnson. “It (the rule) is a commitment to best practices and a way to improve the financial opportunity of minorities, when there is such a large gap.”

He said these are solutions to social problems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation’s unemployment rate as of February was 8.3 percent, but what is even more disheartening is the unemployment rate for African-Americans, which is 14.1 percent, almost twice that of the national. Johnson said he is disappointed in the rates overall and as a businessman, wants to do all he can to create business. He added that just as the country addresses the national unemployment, the Black unemployment rate is a problem that needs to be addressed too.

Johnson said when it comes to Black owned businesses, he believes they are run by hardworking, dedicated individuals who take risks, have high work ethics and the integrity, but who lack access to capital and opportunity to do business with large corporations, and that’s where OppsPlace comes in.

Other than his work with OppsPlace, Johnson currently owns or holds stake in several business endeavors, such as hotel real estate; consumer financial services; insurance services; automobile dealerships, where his RLJ McLarty Landers Automotive Holdings LLC is the largest minority owned automobile dealership group in the county; sports, where he was the former majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats; entertainment, where his OurStories Film was the first African-American owned film production studio; and more.

As, what some might say, the founder of Black Entertainment Network, Johnson said he thinks the greatest challenges to Black directors, producers and actors/actresses is they aren’t given as many opportunities and roles and there is not enough money being invested in them. “It’s not that there’s not an audience, the audience is there-Tyler Perry proves that. We need to provide them with access to capital.” As for BET, Johnson gives kudos to Debra Lee, CEO of BET, saying that he thinks she is doing a great job and that it’s a legacy in very good hands.

Johnson hopes that like Vibrant Pittsburgh, more companies will join OppsPlace. “The leadership of Vibrant Pittsburgh has set the standard for what communities can and should do,” he said. “It is an example of what can happen when people come together for the greater good of the community.”

(For more information on OppsPlace, visit OppsPlace.com.)

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