Fitzpatrick recognized for his works in diversity

Kenny Peris

The 2005 Robert G. McGruder Distinguished Guest Lecture Award was presented to Kent State Professor Albert Fitzpatrick yesterday in the Kiva amongst a crowd of family, friends, faculty, students and admirers.

Fitzpatrick, a close friend and colleague of McGruder, who he lovingly refers to as “Bob,” spoke about the trials and tribulations he faced during his time with the Knight Ridder Corporation and the Akron Beacon Journal.

“Diversity is important for the survival of the world in which we live,” Fitzpatrick said. “Diversity is all-exclusive. We don’t understand that in this country.”

Fitzpatrick said to move forward as a society, we’ve got to embrace diversity. Accepting diversity is the first step to making our environment a better place. He said it was a way to look at people and see what they have to offer.

“That is what diversity is all about,” Fitzpatrick said.

Academic Diversity Adviser Gene Shelton said Fitzpatrick’s achievements are a way to prepare students to work in a diverse society.

“In many ways, he was like Jackie Robinson,” Shelton said. “He broke cultural barriers.”

A 1956 Kent State graduate, Fitzpatrick spent six years in the military before he started his education in journalism at Kent State. He was the first African-American sports editor for the Daily Kent Stater and was advised by William Taylor, the first director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“He told me not to go into the newspaper business,” Fitzpatrick said. “‘Blacks can’t get jobs on a white newspaper.’ I told him, ‘I’m going to get a job.'”

He double-majored in journalism and sociology, after no response from any newspapers he applied to after a month and a half, he was finally contacted by the Akron Beacon Journal. He worked as a religion, business and obituary writer. Fitzpatrick was also the first person of color to work at the Beacon among the 600 person staff in 1956.

“I went in to the editor and I told him, ‘I’m trained to be a reporter and I want you to take these shackles off my wrist so I can report,'” Fitzpatrick said.

After 10 years, Fitzpatrick was promoted to news editor. After another 10 years, he was promoted to managing editor and finally to executive editor.

“It was difficult,” Fitzpatrick said. “Most people were convinced I would fail. I was determined to succeed and that was the difference.”

After 29 years at the Beacon, he was hired onto the staff of Knight Ridder, the third largest newspaper company in the country, after he wrote a letter to the editor about how they only employed 26 African-Americans. He wasn’t looking for the job, but he accepted it and eventually became vice-president of minority affairs, where he was, again, the first officer of color.

“They knew it was the right thing to do and it was good business sense,” Fitzpatrick said.

He retired from Knight Ridder in January 1994 and has been teaching newswriting and managing diversity at Kent State ever since. Fitzpatrick is president and CEO of Fitzpatrick Consultants, a diversity entity, founding chairman of the National Association of Minority Media Executives and past president of the National Association of Black Journalists. He directed the coverage of the Kent State shootings in May 1970 and won a Pulitzer Prize at the Beacon for it.

“We were the only newspaper in the country to get it accurate,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick is also the dean of the Albert E. Fitzpatrick Leadership Development Institute, which he started in his days at Knight Ridder as a way to give career development to the colored in media.

Fitzpatrick was presented the award by JMC Director Jeff Fruit and President Carol Cartwright.

“He’s been a huge supporter of our program in many ways,” Fruit said. Fruit described Fitzpatrick as one of the founding fathers of diversity in newspaper and as a man who set the standard for all that have followed.

“I thank Kent State University for this prestigious award and the special place it holds in my heart,” Fitzpatrick said.

Contact student media reporter Kenny Peris at [email protected].