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In a bracing call for action that centers people and connection, the 39th Annual Parker Lecture & Award Ceremony honored three advocates in a unique online celebration. The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry honored three individuals working to a more just an inclusive society--ensuring that media, technology and democracy represent all people across economic, racial, and religious lines. 

In addition to the ceremony and awards, the ministry announced a new logo, new name and new tag line: United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry, faithful advocacy for communication rights. Cheryl Leanza, the ministry's policy advisor, explained its new logo. It combines imagery reflecting radio waves or a wi-fi signal with a speech bubble or a comma. As Leanza explained, "as a speech bubble it shows that our voices and the voices of others are going out into the world, bringing justice to it. For those who know the UCC, a comma is also the symbol many of our denomination have chosen to signify that 'God is Still Speaking,' that new interpretations of justice speak to us today just as to our ancestors."


Francella Ochillo, received the 2021 Donald H. McGannon Award, which recognizes special contributions to advancing the role of women and persons of color in the media. Earl Williams, Jr., the chair of UCC Media Justice described Ochillo, "she exemplifies Donald McGannon's famous quote: leadership is action, not position." In her remarks, Ochillo acknowledged the people who helped her on staff as well as anyone who had not been acknowledged for their work. She described personal experiences when her race dictated what others thought she should say. She noted that in Donald McGannon's time, the system did not acknowledge that every person had a right to speak via the media. "But we do not need to repeat that story," said Ochillo, "we must make room at the table for people who look different than we do, the people we call 'the others.'"

Angela Siefer, the 2021 Parker Award recipient and executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, acknowledged her leap of faith in founding the organization. As Rev. Mike Denton, UCC Media Justice board member, explained in his introduction, once NDIA was founded, it quickly became "one of those organizations which is hard to imagine the world without." Siefer recounted her early reliance on volunteers and allies, and her early experiences demonstrating how essential real world digital inclusion experience is for policy advocacy. She cited a recent opportunity, when Wanda Davis, NDIA board member and executive director of the Ashbury Senior Computer Connectivity Center in Cleveland OH was able to share her expertise with Federal Communications Commission Acting Chair Rosenworcel in a recent online event, “that was a success”. As Siefer acknowledged others' sacrifices as well as her own, she insisted, "I will not look back on this time and wish I had done more."


The 39th Parker Lecturer, Eric K. Ward, drew on his deep expertise fighting white supremacy and white nationalism to challenge the assembled group to action. Ward described the successes of the past, lest we become "the Eeyore's of social movements," referencing the successful effort in the 1960s to eradicate white supremacy from the law. Today, however, he noted modern hate movements exist in our culture and build on the past. "White supremacy is written on the paper of racism," said Ward, "white nationalism is written on the paper of anti-Semitism." Ward cautioned that those opposed to white supremacy should not fool themselves into thinking white nationalists are made up of people who are uneducated, poor, and alienated from society, "the white nationalist social movement is a highly evolved social movement with think tanks, organizers, and new constituencies." He emphasized this moment is as important as the effort in the 1960s. "You no longer what you have to wonder what you would have done … the choices before you are moral and historic. You cannot be neutral." He urged the crowd to act, "there is no reason to be hording your energy and resources for a longer arc. We have the privilege to create a new civil rights movement of today," he said, "this is our United States if we choose it to be. We merely have to choose it."

About the UCC’s media justice ministry and the Parker Lecture

The Office of Communications, Inc. is the media justice arm of the United Church of Christ. Founded in 1959, just two years after the formation of the UCC as a denomination, it was led by the Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker in its earliest years. Parker was inspired by the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to reform television coverage of the civil rights movement in the South. OC Inc.’s advocacy in the 1960s resulted in the establishment of the right of all American citizens to participate in  hearings before the Federal Communications Commission and the FCC being compelled to take away the broadcast license of the pro-segregationist television station WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., in 1969 for failing to serve the public interest.

The Parker Lecture was created in 1982 to recognize the Rev. Dr. Parker’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting. The Parker Lecture is the only program of its kind in the United States that examines telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective.

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