Symonds Could Add Spark to Howard Foundation - Multichannel

Symonds Could Add Spark to Howard Foundation

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The T. Howard Foundation, under new president Curtis Symonds, will look to shed its identity as a direct-broadcast satellite-based diversity organization and broaden its appeal to cable companies.

The 10-year-old T. Howard Foundation was founded by DBS pioneer H. Taylor Howard to help increase diversity within the telecommunications industry by placing college students at cable and DBS companies.

Symonds, a former Black Entertainment Television executive who's been a T. Howard board member for the last four years, said the organization has for the most part been ignored by much of the cable industry.

"The idea that T. Howard is a DBS-only foundation is a false mindset," said Symonds, adding that T. Howard gets 80 percent of its funding from programmers and most of its students are placed within those companies.

Industry executives said the energetic Symonds — who throughout his career has championed workplace diversity issues — should help raise the topic's visibility.

"Diversity is a workplace issue, and whether it's the cable industry, the satellite industry or the broadcast industry, the issue is, how do you reach the most people with the most consistent information?" said Cable Positive president and CEO Steve Villano. "Curtis coming to T. Howard sends a message that there are issues that are pre-eminent and that simply transcend the competitive issues."

In nearly a decade, T. Howard has recruited nearly 150 students from various colleges around the country — including historically black colleges and universities — for summer internships.

T. Howard's hope is that most of those students will eventually land a job within the industry, but Symonds said the foundation has only been able to place a disappointing 10 percent of its students — a malady he hopes to address.

"We let the industry get away with saying, 'We opened the doors to interns,' but we never pushed the needle to say, 'Down the road, you should think about hiring that person,'" Symonds said.

The organization hopes to raise a record $700,000 from its annual dinner, scheduled for May 19 in New York, with Ted Turner as the headline guest. Symonds said his future goals include tracking interns' progress better.

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