Highlights CEO Kent Johnson Speaks Out Against Family Separation

Suzanne Goldsmith
Highlights CEO Kent Johnson in a 2015 photo

Columbus-based Highlights for Children, publisher of the popular children’s magazine Highlights, denounced the separation of migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border when CEO Kent Johnson issued a statement yesterday calling the practice “unconscionable” and asserting that it “causes irreparable damage to young lives.”

The statement (see below) comes in a week when wide attention has focused on lack of sanitation and other basic needs for migrant children in U.S. detention centers near the Mexican border.

In his letter, which the company shared on Facebook, Johnson urged readers to call or write to their government representatives and speak out against the separation of families seeking to enter the U.S. without permission. Johnson linked the company’s decision to speak out to its core belief that “children are the world’s most important people.”

“This is not a political statement about immigration policy,” Johnson wrote. “This is a statement about human decency, pure and simple.” But despite the denial that his statement is political, it’s hard to miss the criticism of the U.S. president. According to Politifact, the Trump administration stepped up the once-rare practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the border in 2017, then, following public outcry, issued an executive order outlawing family separation in May of 2018 but continued the practice. More than 700 families were separated between June 2018 and late May of 2019, according to Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s National Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The Highlights statement was an unusual act for the 73-year-old, family-owned company, which was founded by Johnson’s great-grandparents. The statement, however, is part of a recent trend among business executives nationally and in Central Ohio to speak out on national political issues, detailed in a Sept. 2018 article in Columbus CEO. In August 2017, L Brands CEO Les Wexner criticized President Donald Trump for his failure to denounce white supremacists following a violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; AEP CEO Nick Akins has criticized the Trump administration’s climate change policies; and former IBM iX CEO Kelly Mooney and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams founder Jeni Britton Bauer attended the January 2017 Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump took office.

It was also widely viewed as a rebuke to Trump and his rhetoric when the Columbus Partnership last year called for more civility in public life. (Read more about that initiative here.)

Highlights’ Johnson, for his part, wrote in his statement that taking a stand is part of what his magazine aims to teach children. “We want kids to understand the importance of having moral courage,” he wrote. “Moral courage means standing up for what is right, honest, and ethical—even when it is hard.”


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