Radio and TV Talk

Rodney Ho covers TV and radio, from Atlanta’s stations to the hottest “American Idol" news.

Steve Harvey on his annual mentoring camp, the infamous memo, Asian joke

This was posted Monday, July 17, 2017 by Rodney Ho/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Steve Harvey has had his fair share of controversy befall him in recent months, ranging from ill-received jokes about Asian American males to a leaked "leave me alone" memo to his talk show staff to a recent insult of a Flint resident.

In the grand scheme of things, these controversies are not that big a deal, just a sign of how big Harvey has become, with a schedule packed tighter than a New York City subway at rush hour. He hosts multiple TV shows and a national radio show. He seems to be doing the work of five people.

But the power of celebrity can also mean power for good. And that's where Steve Harvey Mentoring Camp for Young Men comes in.

He's been doing this camp for nearly a decade and thanks to a new, bigger camping space and more sponsorship money, he was able to more than double the number of male teens without dads who could attend. This year, he brought in a record 231 campers to the Rock Ranch in The Rock, a city an hour south of Atlanta that has nothing to do with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Yes, that's a real place, a 1,500-acre working cattle ranch created by the late founder of Chick-fil-A S. Truett Cathy. It has zip lines, lakes packed with fish and camping grounds about an hour south of Atlanta.

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For several years, Harvey had held the camp at his own ranch in Dallas but it wasn't large enough to accommodate this many kids. Two years, ago, he moved it to a larger space in Georgia. This year is the first time at the even bigger Rock Ranch. The camp provided military conditioning from the Army, sports, engineering games and education guidance. Harvey's goal: teach them how to cope with adolescent pressures, command respect, learn life skills and pick up problem-solving techniques.

Frank Hallum, the 51-year-old Atlanta-based director of boys mentoring for the Steve Harvey Foundation since the program began in 2009, said mentoring has been his calling for decades. And for him, this isn't an isolated four-day program.

"I develop follow up programs so we can continue to mentor the young men throughout their lives," Hallum said. He didn't want the boys to feel abandoned yet again.

And since the moms still have to take care of the kids when they get back home, he holds a a concurrent camp to help them with parenting skills. "I feel like we've made a real impact on a lot of lives," he said.

The campers are from Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and heavily Atlanta. About 50 are junior counselors who have taken part in the program before. Some graduates from many years ago come in as mentors.

Hallum said there is clearly demand for this program. He received more than 3,000 applicants, making the acceptance process akin to getting into an Ivy League university.

The reason the camp is so much larger is greater financial support from Harvey's biggest sponsor Choice Hotels, which include Comfort Inn and Quality Inn. CEO Steve Joyce flies in from Rockville, Md. every year to check out the proceedings. "It's right up the alley of things we like to do," he said. "We provide all the rooms for all the mothers and the volunteers at the camp. I like the impact he has on the kids. He is going to change 231 lives." (The company also provides frequent flyer miles to fly participants to Atlanta.)

One thing Harvey hates is dreadlocks. "You should look like someone who he wants to hire," Joyce said.

Kendell McGee, a counselor, concurred. When he saw Harvey at a 'Family Feud' taping, Harvey told him if he wanted to come back as a counselor, his dreads had to go. "I came back the next day with a haircut," he said. "I almost cried."

"He said to me first time I met him, if I hadn't been in this program, I'd be dead or in jail," Joyce said.

Harvey arrived on the third day to give the kids both group mentoring and one-on-one advice.

"Last year, he got mad. Not everyone was as responsive as he wanted, he was hot. He made them do suicide sprints. It was 95 and humid," Joyce said.

Harvey also did a little press, noting how he started this program after his father died and he started thinking about folks who grew up with fathers and wondered what he could do for them.

I got about 12 minutes on one on one with him. He was in good spirits and took even tough questions without getting defensive.

On the infamous memo: "The memo didn't bother me at all. I didn't get the uproar. I've had that TV show for four years. I've been such an open guy. People took advantage of me. They came up to me in the hallway for pictures, scripts and ideas and books. I got the bathroom and they're sitting in the hallway. They walk in the dressing room without knocking. I don't know how to write nicely. I didn't know typing in capital letters, you were yelling. I thought it meant emphasis... I didn't apologize because I just needed some space. I have seven TV shows and a radio show."

Moving his talk show, "Family Feud" and radio show to Los Angeles: "I couldn't move the talk show to Atlanta. I couldn't do the type of show I wanted to do. I have to slow my life down . I'm not getting any younger. I have to start working smarter. My contract was up in Chicago. It's a five-year deal... I'll never leave Atlanta [as a residence]. Atlanta is home."

The end of "Neighborhood Awards" [previously Hoodie Awards]: "It was 15 years. It was time to reinvent it. We now have the Sand & Soul Festival [in October in the Bahamas]. We will now have the Steve Harvey 100. Instead of featuring 13 businesses, we're going to pick the top 100 businesses from around the country and possibly gain a chance to get them funding to help them grow their businesses."

The Asian dating joke: (On the Jan. 6 episode of his talk show, Harvey mocked a 2002 book titled How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men, saying the book should only have a single page, "'Excuse me, do you like Asian men?' No, thank you."

"I don’t even like Chinese food, boy. It don’t stay with you no time," he continued in a mock-female voice. "I don’t eat what I can’t pronounce.”)

I told him he made it sound like Asian men were not worthy of dating black or white women. "The joke wasn't that," Harvey said. "The joke was that Asian guy put out this pamphlet, an Asian guide to dating white women. As a black man, if a Steve Harvey puts out a pamphlet, a black man's guide to dating white women, my community hangs me by my fingernails and toenails. Now you've got money, you're not good enough for us. That was the angle of the joke. If people thought it was mean spirited, I apologize. I don't think I said Asian men were ugly. I'm not a mean-spirited guy at all. I don't do my job to slash people."

His joke on the Flint lead water crisis was addressed previously here.

Watch the video below:

About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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