Since When Did Helping Other Black Men Lead to Getting Fired?

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

I’ve never met Lenny McAllister, a former host on WVON 1690 in Chicago.  The only thing I know is that Lenny is a Republican (which I am not), and that WVON was once my favorite radio station in the entire country.  The station, in my mind, has always represented the essence and history of the South Side of Chicago,  a place that is near and dear to my heart.

The other thing I know about Lenny is that he was fired from WVON apparently for helping another black man in need.  My head cocked to the side when I heard about Lenny’s dismissal, in large part because it is uncharacteristic of a station that stands for civil rights to so readily violate the rights of a fellow African American.   But as usual, when one wants to find the root of unethical behavior, you only need to follow the money.

One of Lenny’s mentees was a 21-year old student at Chicago State University.  The young man was working as a night manager at a local McDonald’s in order to support his girlfriend and their 6-day old son.  He was an outstanding member of the school’s ROTC and set to be deployed to the Middle East later that year.

Unfortunately, the student’s son died in early July.  McAllister claims that the young man then called his boss, Keith Allen, to ask him if he could take the day off to make funeral arrangements for his child.  The owner then allegedly told the young man that he would be fired if he didn’t come to work.   So, the young man did what most of us would do – he spent the day with his grieving girlfriend and planned to bury his child.

McAllister tried to help the boy by going to the airwaves and calling for his listeners to boycott Allen’s McDonald’s franchises.  Allen apparently owns five McDonald’s restaurants in the area, and McAllister felt that the community should take a “holiday” away from the businesses owned by a black man who would fire a brother who’d just experienced such a tragic loss.

According to McAllister:  “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?”

When listeners were responding to McAllister’s on-air call for a boycott (the local NAACP chapter also supported it), that’s when things got interesting.  WVON reportedly received a call from a representative of BMOA (the Black McDonald’s Owners of America), who threatened to pull all advertising away from WVON if the boycott were not called off.

McAllister raised enough money in donations to pay for the funeral for his mentee’s son and he promptly ended the boycott.  After wining a hard fought battle on behalf of another brother, McAllister was allegedly fired from WVON the following day (he was told that his position was “under review” – translation:  “We’re trying to find a reason to get rid of you”).

The story of Lenny McAllister makes me want to put on my Finance Professor hat for just a second.  As I’ve reiterated in the past, money is powerful, like a drug.  A drug can either heal you and make you strong, or it can turn you into an addict.  One of the great challenges of the financially-starved, yet exceedingly materialistic  African American community is that we’ve become convinced that financial gain is an excuse for almost any egregious and unethical decision we might make:  The NAACP finds it acceptable to take money from a bank (Wells Fargo) accused of Predatory Lending, BET’s quest for corporate sponsorship makes them an accomplice to the promotion of some of the most damaging psychological poison in our society, and now a storied station like WVON runs away from doing the right thing because a wealthy corporation has basically extorted their commitment to civil rights.

Let’s be clear:  Mr. Allen was wrong to fire this young man in light of his family’s condition.  Allen likely did not anticipate that Mr. McAllister would stand up for the young man in the way that he did.   Once McAllister did the right thing by supporting the young man (which any decent black man would do), Allen simply tried to raise the stakes by resorting to the massive economic power of the McDonald’s corporation.  At the end, WVON feels that it has no choice but to buckle – whether we’re talking about actual drugs on the street or the powerful drug of money, an addict always folds to the pusher.

Well, the community doesn’t have to buckle and I would define this situation to be a moment of truth.  The boycott started by Mr. McAllister against Mr. Allen’s restaurants should be continued by all of those in the Chicago community who believe in the importance of doing what is right.  We’re not all part of the vast corporate puppetry controlled by McDonald’s and WVON can’t fire us all.  Based on the facts that that have been presented to me, the moral high ground is clear: firing this young man in the midst of such a horrific tragedy is simply unconscionable, and no amount of money should make us believe otherwise.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is as Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Black American Money: How Black Power can Thrive in a Capitalist Society”  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 



Filed under African Americans

46 responses to “Since When Did Helping Other Black Men Lead to Getting Fired?

  1. McDonald’s and WVON need to make this right, I need to know why the young man was not given time to do what he needed to do for his family. The reasoning needs to be clarified. The manager in the story seems to be on the unreasonable, errational side. I think more details are needed. If everything does pan out, they needed to be dealt with from the community.

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  12. jimmy

    It doesn’t matter. I’ll rather choke down some dirt than a cheeseburger, so I’m boycotting all McDonald’s.

  13. Ms. Oregon

    I Pray that the man who lost his son and the locals in South Chicago somehow pull things together and Boycott the four McDonalds and the radio station until the radio host gets his job back……. Then my prayer would be that the host returns, and starts looking for another job. Yea I said return !

  14. Herman Hawkins Jr.

    I have never liked McDonald’s from a consumer, political or dietary standpoint. Never mind MCDonald’s has a reputation of being friendly toward the Black community. A lot of that is pandering, plain and simple. Their approach to our dietary needs has undermined that reputation to me. McDonald’s has served the most unhealthy food around, one reason I do not eat there. They have appealed to our lowest instincts in their marketing and advertising. This action by Keith Allen only underlines that mentality and remember their founder Ray Croc had a racist and reactionary reputation. Black people need to check history when dealing with any business that operates in our community.

  15. Afropick1

    I’ll be eating cheeseburgers at home or at the nu
    Erous other places offering the same ole same ole

    There needs to be a 90 intense effort to downgrade or close this ignant nigrahs business

  16. Money talks and everything else walks! It’s too bad that money turns so many of us into greedy, insensitive bastards. Isn’t there a law that says you have a right to time off to grieve/plan a funeral for an immediate family member? Is this young man suing? He should and so should McAllister. I’m saddened to hear that blacks are using their financial power to further a wrong instead of making it right. I hope they change their minds and get it together for the sake of the community.

  17. jz

    This is a growing problem with WVON. The so-called “voice of the nation” has become a voice of corporate interests. They refused to allow anti-WalMart voices on the air while the company was trying to pass an important city council vote to allow WalMarts in the city. Guess who won?

    WVON is also in a “marketing” agreement with Clear Channel, a company with its own evil motivations.

    Unfortunately, we as a community have very few options, if any. We can’t pull the tower down. Organizing a boycott is difficult because the ‘leaders’ who usually lead boycotts in our community rely on WVON to get out their message (or in the case of Sharpton & Jesse, their radio shows are carried by WVON).

    The lesson is: don’t work for corporate hacks like McDonald’s. We are not people to them. We are sharecroppers. And its time to start a community station on the south and west sides when the FCC announces their new round of community licenses later this year.

  18. jay Stephens

    You are (as usual) right on point, Dr. In order for us to grow into a real community again represented by our expectations and achievements for our developing post-slavery culture, such moments must be viewed as great opportunities. Mr. Allen simply should acknowledge his brief lapse in consideration in the firing; and apologize in providing vacation time as well. usually these managers for owner-operators in Micky-Ds don’t get too many benefits. Then, the black community should rally around this owner-operator and show him love because we all make mistakes but our future is one that is plowed together; and together we must learn the dialogue of community, culture, and achievement. Mr. Allen is truly an economic model and resource that we cannot afford to lose.

  19. the community doesn’t have to buckle and I would define this situation to be a moment of truth. The boycott started by Mr. McAllister against Mr. Allen’s restaurants should be continued by all of those in the Chicago community who believe in the importance of doing what is right. We’re not all part of the vast corporate puppetry controlled by McDonald’s and WVON can’t fire us all. Based on the facts that that have been presented to me, the moral high ground is clear: firing this young man in the midst of such a horrific tragedy is simply unconscionable, and no amount of money should make us believe otherwise. “Dr. Boyce”

  20. So far we have let these negro CEO’s and socalled leaders like NAACP ,WELLS FARGO,BET that is conducting Phsy War against the Black community and the black McDonald Owners of ameriKKKa(BMOA). We need a NATIONAL SELECTIVE BUYING CAMPAIGN.

  21. theloneous

    I’ll gladly boycott McDonald’s, especially the one at 69th & LaFayette. Where exactly are the McDonald’s that are owned by this Sambo Keith Allen? I’ll boycott his and I only buy coffee from McDonald’s anyway, the food is toxic.

  22. People hold on. There is way more to this meets the eye. Let first disclose that our organization the Coalition for Justice and Respect (CJR) has been in conflict with WVON because of the line of platform of hate the Lenny McAllister presented in the air claiming the that Civil Union should not be apart of the civil rights movement. His demeanor caused people to call in WVON with awful remarks about Gays and Lesbians. He is still responsible for the violence he caused there. We have called for both Mr. McAllister and WVON to apologize. With that said, the problem of consideration has been a long-standing issue with Mr. McAllister. He offend misrepresents the position of President Obama and either from a lack of knowledge or deliberate intent misrepresents civil rights.

    In the this particular matter his intellect surpassed himself. If he had, had any respect for the civil rights movement or direct action before he ventured in this he would have followed the course set out by Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr. in his “Letter From The Birmingham Jail.” Basicly there are steps to non-violent direct action. McAllister followed none. Thus, he didn’t do the research nor evaluation he did as always does and shot from the lip and this time shot himself in the foot.

    Lets the rest of us not suffer from the same wound.

  23. Janet

    Dr. Watkins keep up the pressure on this “Black Establishment and provide the names of every single owner of the “Black McDonald Owner’s Of America and their McDonalds addresses, the Black community should boycott them all every last one.! No Exception. This is just plain wrong and for an entire Black McDonalds Owners to come after a college student who’s son died and his uncaring Boss refused to act as any good company would do let this young man make funeral arrangements and most establishments would give this young man time off to handle this tragic event in his life. Coming from our own, it’s unconscienceable!

  24. EBD

    To the capitalist, absolutely nothing is more important than profits. The human rights of the worker is relevant to him only to the extent that it affects his profits.
    The absence of the Night Manager affects the level of service he provides and by extention, his profits (particularly if he could not find a replacement to cover this shift). The owner cares less about the well-being of his employee and it is hardly surprising that the death of the young man’s child and his need to attend to his family tradegy did not alter his perception of the relevancy of the employee to his business and his ability to make profits.Today, we are told that businesses are sitting on trillions of dollars while millions of Americans are unemployed. Whether they have roofs over their heads or able to feed and take care of the basic needs of their families is not their concern. What concerns them are making profits and, I must add, finding ways, through their lobbyists, not to pay taxes. Mr. Allen’s lack of sensitivity and his absolute disregard of his employee’s rights as a human being must be addressed by holding him accountable. The boycott must continue until the young man is reinstated on the job. Personally, I would not want to work for a business owner with that level of indifference to trials and tribulations of the human kind.

  25. This story is insane! It’s about as insane as the people in this country. Very few people understand what is going on and many could care less. This story is the story of the US in total. It is the psychosocial make-up of this vile country. This story focuses on one issue while millions of black men and women are finding it difficult to survive here in ‘America’. Jobs? Morals? Ethics? Forget about it. This country builds its reputation on the basis of religious belief and has conned nearly everyone and especially black people into believing in it. Then believe as you will while all around you our people are suffering in ways you have yet to encompass.

    We can look at this country with its fake black president and keep hoping for a better future for our children, but the truth of the matter is that there is no proper future for our children as long as the Anglo-elite control us and the world. They infect us with the same sick psychosis as they have. We were stripped of our proper self and left with the Anglo-centric ‘Anglo-Americanization’ Ideals in its place. We are like white-mindset androids in black-face who consider our enemies as our friends and those who look like us as wretched to us as we are to our white “friends”.
    We have had black leaders who have tried to wake us from this nightmare for decades. Most of them have been murdered or imprisoned and simply silenced. Now when we hear of a daily shooting and/or killing of blacks we are not surprised some of us even think the person probably had it coming!
    Now when we hear of a black business owner treating a young black employee like a white business owner might, we are not surprised we figure he had his reasons. Now when we see a black man as a president unable to do anything to change our condition we are not surprised, we simply think that he has more important things to deal with than to cure centuries old ‘black’ problems. What can we do? Some will do nothing, others don’t want to hear it, some are in denial, but overall, we are all just insane!

  26. TJ

    If anything WVON as a collective should have supported this brother in need. I remember when black radio did things like that.

  27. Charles

    If the McDonald’s owner was sending a message about personal responsibility he got his point across. I find it interesting that we talk large about personal responsibility and then applaud when two people produce a human being outside of the legitimate structure. Do you want a payroll of folks who lack legitimacy? Is this the message the owner wants to send out? Would you like a payroll filled with 500 folks who ‘sleep around’ and allow their social choices to become the image of the firm?

    Let me be clear. Though I am retired, as a former college administrator and oil company lobbyist, I would NEVER have hired any of the many I encounter as a customer who think that the employment setting is their personal lair. Who is the owner and what can ownership bode?

  28. EBD

    Charles, you seem to have missed the point. You sound like one of those right-wing crazies who do not even read the bible to understand its teachings to those who follow Christ. The employer did not dismiss the employee because he was “sleeping around”. If that was the case he would have done so when he first learned that the young man has a new-born baby (i.e. assuming that it was not a secret). Why would he wait until the baby is dead to get rid of the irresponsible employee. Doing the honorable thing as a young black man is now according to you, Charles, a legitimate reason to loose one’s job. As a christian, you do not seem to believe in forgiveness or should I say compassion. I am convinced that you would be the first one to stand on top of your pulpit or soapbox to condemn the young man for failing to fulfill his responsiblity as a father.
    Oh! how did a former college administrator end up becoming an oil company lobbyist? Just curious!

  29. Jan Bunch

    Could someone please list the addresses of the MacDonald’s stores owed
    by Allen. I can’t boycott if I don’t know the locations.


  30. DDW

    Why should we depend on President Obama (and I give the man his proper respects instead of calling him names) to solve our problems where we should start solving the problems in our communities. This country we have a check in balance with the Executive, Legislative and Judicial so the President can only do so much. We need to mentor our youths like Mr. McAllister was trying to do for this young man and I applaud this young man for going out to find employment to take care of his family. I hope and pray for bigger and better things for this young man. The President is not fake.

  31. There are two types or racial conflicts: inter-racial and intra-racial.

    This is an intra-racial conflict that reveals issues within our race. In my book, “Black Cleavages”, I point out many cleavages that exist within our race. These cleavages prevent unity and promote and encourage racist behavior against Black people.

  32. Charles Williams

    Ronald McDonald and Mr Allen. (2)clowns

  33. Stan G

    To survive it seems we must make choices some good some bad. Yes with the details presented the young man did the right thing. Those of us who work in any kind of a corporate structure know the rules and how to play the game. The problem is bigger and we all know that. The owner is doing what we encourage all young people to do but unfortunately there are prices to pay. He is paying a very small price with whatever boycott can be mounted. memories are short. Let us all pray for our country and all of its ills.

  34. Harold I. Brown

    What I like about Dr. Watkins is that he is not a supporter of “If a Black man is wrong that”s o.k. mentality”. The owner of this restaurant and other Black businesses that have turned “White” in their thinking are wrong. “For the LOVE of money is the ROOT ofALL EVIL.”

  35. lacey

    doverdavis has explained it beautifully.

  36. lacey

    I dont know who this person named “Charles” is. I do know that he is trying to engage others in a topic that doesn’t belong on here at this time. Sometime it is best to ignore and not allow yourself to be swayed with trickery others will use to promote ill-will.

  37. Pingback: Zack Isaacs: A Chicago Media BlackOut

  38. Regg'e

    Excuse me, but where have you been? This not too long ago used to lead to hangings!

  39. cheryl

    Lenny should have been fired for a variety of reasons. WVON has sponsored a Kwanza Celebration for for 19 years. On the first day of Kwanza last year Lenny berated Dr. Maulana Karenga and all who celebrate Kwanza. I wonder how this will affect attracting sponsors and vendors this year. He was constantly disrespectful of President Obama. Most seriously he expressed a disdain for the bulk of WVON listeners who are Independents, Democrats and Liberals. He also spent an entire show criticizing fellow host Atty. Warren Ballentine, saying he wasn’t old enough to know about racism. I was one who regularly complained to management about Lenny. I didn’t listen to his show after I saw where he was coming from and did not listen when he filled in for other hosts. He cost the station listeners. Ding Dong the witch is gone, the wicked witch is gone. May Lenny be gone forever

  40. TruthAndJustice

    It’s time to boycott both WVON and McDonald’s, and send the membership of BMOA (the Black McDonald’s Owners of America) a wake up call, and to see if the members support this action, and if not, what BMOA is going to do. This is shameful!

  41. E.M.

    Please, can someone please provide a list of which McDonald’s Mr. Allen owns. As for WVON, unfortunately corporations do this to Black and mainstream media. There is really no free press anymore unless one is in his or her basement typing out factual information onto a blog. It’s easy to get mad at WVON (and they are wrong if this story is true), but unfortunately McDonald’s is one of this radio station’s major advertisers. If WVON didn’t bend, many other employees besides Mr. McAllister go home without a paycheck from WVON. Please consider that before you judge them too harsly, but definitely judge harshly the corporation that put this small Black-owned radio station in this predicament.

  42. cheryl

    It’s amazing how everyone is willing to believe one side of this story. A Black business man could not be successful operating on short sightedness. I’d bet dollars to donuts (or cheeseburgers) that there is more to the story than we know. Also how many of you who work can organize a boycott against your company’s clients and keep your job. Those of you who own your own company do not let your employees dictate your bottom line. Get the whole story before siding with someone who has not shown any respect for the Black community. It’s not just that Lenny is a avowed republican tea partyer, he has expressed a dislike for Blacks repeatedly on his show.

  43. LadyDi

    Dr. Watkins along with Lenny McAllister have decided to speak without confirming the FACTS! This McDonald employee, and McAllister’s mentee deliberately lied and misrepresented the TRUTH in this case! That is why Lenny McAllister was fired by WVON!! The Liability for speaking without confirming if indeed this story is true or has merit was totally ignored by McAllister, and later it proved to be a total fabrication by this young man! 1) HE DID NOT BURY HIS SON!!! Total Untruth! So it was not about calling the boycott Lenny has a history of rushing to judgement,and furthering his OWN AGENDA without doing HIS HOMEWORK and verifying that what was stated by this young man was true! The stand that WVON took was long overdue! This young man was not being deployed and has never been deployed to the Middle East! Every week it was some new excuse about why he was unable to come to work! That being said allow someone the opportunity that truly wants to have a job to help support there families, this young man did not want to work. It was very apparent from his work history stats in just a short time. Granted Keith Allen is an GI-NORMOUS asshole true fact but in this case his actions were just and warranted! So Boyce Blog get your FACTS RIGHT!!! You are way off on this ONE!!!!!!

  44. LadyDi

    FYI and proof again that many of you guys speak without doing the much needed verification and homework BMOA stands for Black McDonald’s Operators Association!!!!! Knowledge is Power!!!

  45. Dino

    A coin has two sides but the value is the same—— good job Keith Allen— you worked your ass off to get where you are at Proud as hell of you — Keep up the good work

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