Happy week of Thanksgiving, all! Before the month is out, we’d like to leave you with a fresh installment of MNN Diaries, our popular blog series dedicated to giving voice to the network’s diverse group of talented producers – the people behind MNN’s innovative programming. This edition of MNN Diaries is really special. At 94, Florence Rice, producer and host of “30 Minutes With Florence Rice,” has been with the network since the very beginning, and her TV career is only one of many, many interesting chapters in a dynamic life of resistance, defiance and activism.
Florence’s mother was pregnant with her when she immigrated to the U.S. from the West Indies. From ages 2 to 16, Florence lived in Manhattan’s Colored Orphan Asylum, the first orphanage in the country dedicated to caring for African-American children. She left school after 8th grade (“I found out that in high school, blacks were given home economics while whites were given typing”), going on to work in the garment business, where she chaired the workers union until being thrown out of her job for testifying in Congressman Adam Clayton Powell’s 1962 hearing on the dressmaking industry practices.
Florence later worked in the telephone and credit worlds, where she developed a deep understanding of the ways in which the business world discriminates against the poor. If you know Florence, you know she’s not one to just sit back and watch bad things happen to good people. Florence got to work educating her neighbors in Harlem on their rights as consumers, founding the Harlem Consumer Education Council and, later, a computer center for the underserved population in Harlem. Florence was appointed as Special Consultant to the Consumer Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Board in the 1970s, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Consumer Federation of America. This “one-woman consumer dynamo,” as the New York Times once called her, has traveled all over the world to teach, lecture, run seminars and accept honors for her outstanding work. Earlier this month Florence was honored for her community advocacy by Pa’lante (People Against Landlord Abuse and Tenant Exploitation), an organization in Harlem.
“30 Minutes with Florence Rice” features a range of topics, from consumer advocacy to civil rights history to local singers dear to Florence. One of the show’s most recent episodes honored Michael Boulware Moore, great great grandson of Robert Smalls, the slave-turned-Civil War hero who went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Here is Florence’s MNN Diaries entry. Enjoy!
Tell me about the Harlem Consumer Education Council.
After I got thrown out the union, when I had to get a job working in credit, and that’s when I got my education, especially about poor people. I had some pretty good people talking to me. Good, honest people. And they were telling me that we were paying more than whites for home loans. Once I began to understand that, I [created the council] to educate poor people, regardless of race, color or creed. Today, one of the biggest things poor people are getting ripped off on is food.
What led you to MNN?
I knew [lawyer and civil rights advocate] Florynce Kennedy, and she had a show. I was touching a lot of stuff that people don’t talk about. I’m lucky I’m not dead!
But your message has had good reception.
For poor people, I would say yes. Even knowing how to go to the doctor, the questions to ask. That’s important.
How would you like your show to impact your audience? You just do what you see needs to be done. I’ve always been concerned about the people that didn’t have. One of the people I worked with, he said, “Florence, I know what you’re doing, but I got to take care of my family.” By that time my daughter was married. I had nothing to lose. And I just took on issues that most people wouldn’t take on. Most people would like to get involved with something where they get along with everybody. I didn’t get along with everybody.
You know, one thing I tell my young people: If you tell the truth, you don’t have to worry. I used to tell my daughter, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” Some people tell lies about anything.
In three words, why do you love the work you do at MNN?
Keeping your word.
Want more Florence? Watch “30 Minutes With Florence Rice” every other Sunday at 6pm on MNN1 (TWC 34, RCN 82, FiOS 33 and streaming live) and this hour-long interview with “the queen of public access” from a 2009 episode of MNN’s “Conversations with Harold Channer.”