Honoring Black leaders in the telecom industry

Robin Layton

Feb 5, 2024 — 10 min read

Allconnect celebrates broadband's leaders.

Rhonda Crichlow

Rhonda Nesmith Crichlow of Charter Communications speaks onstage at the WICT Network Leadership Conference & Touchstones Luncheon at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on October 11, 2022, in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images For The WICT Network )

As a nation, we celebrate Black History Month each February by “commemorating the central role of Black men and women in our shared history.” 

Dr. Martin Luther King’s “famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech remains relevant to this very day. In that speech, Dr. King appealed to everyone listening to end racial, political, and economic inequalities,” shared David Huntley, retired AT&T Chief Compliance Officer. “We know that when people have access – to education, economic empowerment, and an inclusive environment – the door to opportunity opens and possibility is limitless.” 

According to the Race in the Workplace: The Black experience in the US private sector report, “Black workers are underrepresented in the highest-growth geographies and the highest-paying industries. Meanwhile, they are overrepresented in low-growth geographies and in frontline jobs, which tend to pay less.”

The report looked at data across 23 companies to find that companies have successfully hired Black employees into frontline and entry-level jobs, but there is a significant drop-off in representation at management levels.” 

In the participating companies, “Black employees make up 14 percent of all employees, compared with 12 percent for the US private sector overall. At the managerial level, the Black share of the workforce declines to 7 percent. Across the senior manager, VP, and SVP levels, Black representation holds steady at 4 to 5 percent.” 

At Allconnect, we are privileged to work with the best companies in the telecommunications field and we honor 2024’s Black History Month with recognition of the Black Americans who are the driving force within the industry.

Here are some of the stars within the field who strive to move their company forward in service, equity and diversity:

Black leaders in telco

From top left: Freddie Figgers, Rhonda Nesmith Crichlow, J.D. Myers II, Rose Stuckey Kirk, Christi Cornette, Ralph B. Everett, Anthony Pope, Kimberley D. Harris, Kenneth J. Bacon and Pearlena Igbokwe.

Freddie Figgers

Freddie Figgers started the only Black-owned telecommunications company in the U.S. and is also an inventor and philanthropist. 

To help his father cope with Alzheimer’s disease, Figgers was a teen when he invented a shoe with a GPS tracker and two-way communication. He now holds nine patents on various inventions, including a glucometer that sends a user’s glucose level alerts to a designated person and a doctor.

Meet Freddie Figgers, who built a communications network in Quincy, FL.

At 19, he started Figgers Communications and applied to the FCC for a telecommunications license to provide internet service to rural areas in northern Florida and southern Georgia. “When he received a license in 2011, at 21, he was the youngest telecom operator in the United States, and as of February 2020, Figgers Communication was the only Black-owned telecom in the country.”

As reported by the BBC, “In the early days Freddie did most of the work himself – from laying the concrete for his first mobile phone tower, to installing fiber optic cables.”

Figgers says his business goal “is to provide honesty and transparency while we provide quality and advanced products at an affordable price.” He expanded his telecom business into other areas, including Figg Health, Figg Cash and Figgers Wireless. Figgers also runs the nonprofit Figgers Foundation, which provides financial help for senior citizens and students in his Florida community. 

Rhonda Nesmith Crichlow

According to Charter Communications, Rhonda Nesmith Crichlow joined the company as Senior Vice President Chief Diversity Officer in 2016. She is “responsible for the overall strategic development and implementation of Charter’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Ms. Crichlow also oversees Charter’s Community Impact function, focused on strategic philanthropic investments and employee volunteerism initiatives.”

Crichlow joined Charter from Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation as Vice President, Head of U.S. Diversity and Inclusion, and President of the Novartis U.S. Foundation.

Earlier in her career, Crichlow worked as a tax attorney representing corporate clients. She also served as a judicial law clerk in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

She has received numerous awards, including the 2016 Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Luminary Award. She was a 2015 Top Blacks in Healthcare Award Honoree and recipient of the 2013 Cornerstone of the Community Award, according to DiversityInc Best Practices.

J.D. Myers, II

J.D. Myers, II is Senior Vice President and Region Manager of Cox’s East Region. “In this role, Myers is responsible for leading employees and day-to-day operations from Massachusetts to Florida,” according to Cox

Myers has represented Cox as a market leader and the market’s vice president of Cox Business, as well as the vice president of residential and retail sales for Cox Virginia.

He has received numerous awards and honors, including the 2014 Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing TAMI Award, the 2014 Women in Cable Telecommunications Virginia Chapter Most Valuable Partner Award and others.

According to Cox, “Myers is a member of Cox’s National Diversity Council and serves on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC), where he is a national career mentor of future business leaders. He is a member of the board of trustees for the George Mason University Foundation. He also serves as co-chair of the CTAM Business Services Council.  Additionally, he is on the board of the Virginia Business Council, the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, and a trustee of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.”

Myers served in the U.S. Army as a non-commissioned officer. He earned an MBA in finance, a master’s degree in marketing and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from American University. He also earned an associate’s degree in electrical engineering technology from Regis University. 

Christi H. Cornette

Christi Cornette is altafiber’s Chief Culture Officer and is “responsible for altafiber’s corporate marketing, brand strategy, employee development, human resources, internal and external communication, community involvement, and events and sponsorships,” according to altafiber.

With 30 years of marketing, sales and tech experience, Cornette focuses “on creating a work environment in which employees have the confidence to make decisions, solve problems, and constructively challenge the status quo to push the organization forward,” she states on her LinkedIn profile.

“I am an active mentor for females in the workplace and Iead the company’s culture and diversity initiative, which includes supporting 12 Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These ERGs, which represent the diversity and inclusivity of our organizations, are run by employees and are making a positive impact on both the business and communities we serve.”

Cornette is on the boards of the YWCA Greater Cincinnati and the CancerFree KIDS association, as well as president of the Joel Cornette Foundation.

Anthony Pope

Anthony Pope is the Senior Vice President and Region Manager for Cox’s Central Region, where he oversees market operations in six states.

Pope has 30 years in the telecommunications business and was a vice president and general manager with Charter Communications before joining Cox.  

He received the James M. Cox Award from Cox Enterprises in 2022. As one of the highest honors for Cox employees, the award is based on an employee’s work at Cox to build a better future.

Pope’s other recognitions include being named one of Cablefax Magazine’s Most Influential Minorities in Cable in 2017 and 2018. In 2019 and 2020, he was recognized by Cablefax as one of their Top 100 Power Players.

According to his Cox bio, Pope believes in paying it forward by mentoring young men who grew up without a father figure. 

He is on the board of the Louisiana Cable & Television Association and has served his community on the Baton Rouge Area Chamber Board of Directors and the Boys and Girls Club of Louisiana Board of Governors. 

Pope earned his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Alcorn State University and completed Harvard Business School’s Cable Executive Management program. 

Pearlena Igbokwe

Pearlena Igbokwe is Chairman of Comcast’s Universal Studio Group. 

Entertainment magazine Variety reported, as “the first Black woman to lead a major U.S. television studio, Igbokwe leads four studios as chairman for the Universal Studio Group, including Universal Television, Universal Content Productions, Universal Television Alternative Studio and Universal International Studios.” 

Igbokwe was named one of the special achievement honorees for the 4th annual AAFCA (African American Film Critics Association) TV Honors in 2022. At the event, she received The Ashley Boone Award, presented to executives for their achievement within the industry.

According to Comcast, Igbokwe worked at Showtime for 20 years, where she was involved in developing the pilot and overseeing the first five seasons of “Dexter.” Variety lists her other notable projects as “Hacks,” “Russian Doll,” “Never Have I Ever,” “Girls5eva,” “The Equalizer,” “The Umbrella Academy,” “Dr. Death,” “Gaslit,” “Made in Chelsea,” “Clickbait,” “We Are Lady Parts” and “Making It.”

She currently serves on the boards of the Hollywood Radio and TV Society and National Association of TV Programming Executives and the Television Academy Executive Committee.

Kenneth J. Bacon 

Kenneth J. Bacon has been a director with the Comcast Corporation since 2002. Bacon is also a partner at 

RailField Partners, a financial advisory and asset management firm. 

He retired from Fannie Mae in 2021 as an executive vice president. Mr. Bacon also serves as a director of Ally Financial Inc., Arbor Realty Trust, Inc. and Welltower Inc. and is a member of the National Multifamily Housing Council, as shared in his Comcast bio

Bacon joined nonprofit and trade groups, including the Corporation for Supportive Housing, the Stanford Parent’s Advisory Board and the Real Estate Executive Council. 

According to The HistoryMakers, he earned his bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Stanford University and his M.Sc. degree in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Bacon received his M.B.A. degree from Harvard Business School.

Kimberley D. Harris

Kimberley D. Harris is Executive Vice President, Comcast Corporation and General Counsel of NBCUniversal. 

Comcast shared that her role “oversees all international government and regulatory affairs for Comcast, supporting the company’s businesses worldwide.” 

Harris came to NBCUniversal in 2013 from Davis Polk & Wardwell, where she was a partner in the litigation department. 

Harris also served in the White House Counsel’s Office and was Senior Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Criminal Division. 

Active in the community, she serves on the boards for Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Advocates for Children of New York, the Yale Law School Center for the Study of Corporate Law, the Mount Sinai Health System and the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. 

Harris earned her education from Harvard University and holds a law degree from Yale Law School. 

Rose Stuckey Kirk

Rose Stuckey Kirk is Verizon’s Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer. Verizon shared that she “oversees the strategic direction for all of Verizon’s social impact marketing activity.”

Kirk is an award-winning journalist and the executive producer of the documentary Without A Net: The Digital Divide in America.

Kirk shared her thoughts on equity with bizjournals.com, “Whether during college, in my first job as a journalist, or today as the Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer at Verizon, one core belief has held true: the importance of education in helping to create a more unified and equitable society.”

She serves on the board of Casella Waste System and the World Childhood Foundation. “She is a member of the Leadership Board of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Leadership Council, the Executive Leadership Council, and C-200, a preeminent global organization for women business leaders.  

She also holds former positions as Chair of the Board, Executive Committee Chair, and Governance Committee member of Dress for Success Worldwide as well as Strategic Planning Chair and Finance Committee member for Gill Saint Bernard’s School,” according to Verizon.

Kirk earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Arkansas State University and is completing a master’s degree in International Affairs at Washington University.

Ralph B. Everett 

One of the pioneers of championing internet policy is Ralph B. Everett. A telecommunications lawyer with deep broadband regulation and access experience, Everett was an influential White House committee member and the first African-American to head a U.S. Senate Committee staff.

Everett “served for seven years as the president and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the nation’s leading think tank for policy analysis and research on issues of concern to African-Americans and other people of color. He expanded the organization’s reach into telecommunications, broadband, and energy and the environment while strengthening its leadership on health policy.”

From South Carolina, Everett graduated from Morehouse College and earned his J.D. from Duke University Law School. 

Black tech student resources

The telecom leaders featured here are examples of high achievers within their fields and can be the catalyst for Black students to consider careers in technology and communications. In fact, 54% of surveyed Black Americans “believe more Black students would pursue STEM degrees if there were more visible examples of black high achievers in these fields.”

According to BestColleges.com, several historic Black schools, including Spelman, Howard, Alabama and Prairie View A&M, have scholarships and STEM accelerators to encourage more students to consider these career tracks. 

Robin Layton

Written by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

Robin Layton is an editor for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. She built her internet industry expertise writing and editing for four years on the site, as well as on Allconnect’s sister site MYMOVE.com. … Read more