Sutton, with the African American Think Tank, says he has tried for two weeks to meet with company leaders.
Louisville Courier Journal
This story will be updated.
The leader of the African-American Think Tank in Louisville is calling for a boycott of Papa John’s pizza over the company’s handling of founder John Schnatter’s use of the N-word.
The Rev. Gerome Sutton said he doesn’t want to see a Papa John’s delivery truck on the road on Wednesdays and Fridays until he can deliver a list of demands to chief executive Steve Ritchie in person.
“They’re not trying to do anything other than fix the problem (internally). But they’re not trying to heal the wounds externally,” Sutton said. “… The wounds are still there. The bleeding is gushing. Something has to be done right away.”
Sutton declined to release the full list of demands to the Courier Journal but said they include appointing an African-American board member, implementing diversity and inclusion training, and creating an ad campaign with PSAs and full-page newspaper spreads apologizing for Schnatter’s offensive language.
He expects to hear from Ritchie in the next seven to 10 days, Sutton said. He plans to reevaluate the boycott after the meeting.
A report last month revealed Schnatter used the N-word in a conference call earlier this year and the news ignited a firestorm of controversy around the company. Schnatter was forced out of his role as chairman of the company’s board of directors and had his founder’s agreement canceled during fallout from the crisis.
Ritchie and other top managers with the company, including Victoria Russell, the current chief of diversity and inclusion, embarked on a “listening tour” to nine cities to meet with franchise owners, corporate general managers, employees and customers. A separate internal cultural audit by a third-party firm is also underway.
Last fall, before Schnatter’s comments, employees launched a diversity and inclusion committee with Ritchie’s blessing. Six subcommittees of 35 to 40 people already had been focused on minority recruitment, LGBT issues, marketing, statistics and social responsibility. Their goal was to offer recommendations to transform the company and make it more purpose-driven.
When Schnatter’s latest remarks surfaced, they “only accelerated” the push for change, Russell previously told Courier Journal.
Ritchie told analysts on a Tuesday evening conference call that the company is working hard to stay focused on a re-branding effort. The company has about 120,000 employees, including 650 at its headquarters in Louisville.
“We are working to make sure that our future is not defined by the words and actions of one person,” Ritchie said, adding that an external cultural audit should provide more guidance to create a new path.
Despite the challenges, Ritchie said that the company has great opportunity to “leapfrog” into a stronger position behind more “purpose-driven” branding.
The company said in a statement Wednesday that officials had publicly condemned the comments made by Schnatter, as well as “any racist or insensitive language.” It went on to outline the culture audit and nationwide listening tour.
“… Our work is just beginning and we will continue to communicate our path forward,” it said.
Sutton said Wednesday that he wasn’t pleased with how the company had dealt with the aftermath of the news and called for the company to take strides to “heal the wounds” caused by the language.
He added that he’d had black children come up to him to ask about Schnatter’s language, asking, “What did he mean by using the N-word?”
“It’s insufferable. That’s not the America I know,” Sutton said.
Darcy Costello: 502-582-4834; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dctello. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/darcyc.
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