Office of Communications, Inc.

Shelton, Kramer, Cyril Honored at 31st Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture

Inspiring media justice advocates were honored today as a breakfast audience of media executives, faith leaders and advocates gathered at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington for the 31st Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture.

Hilary O. Shelton and Malkia Amala CyrilHilary O. Shelton, head of the Washington office of the NAACP and this year’s Parker Lecturer, noted that this was the 50th anniversary of key events such as the March on Washington that occurred in 1963, “a year in which, thanks to the media, which was really beginning to really cover our struggles, we were able to take our cause to a much bigger audience.”  But, he cautioned, “Although much has changed, much has also stayed the same.”  Shelton cited several examples were continued vigilance is needed.

“When Everett Parker began his now-famous successful challenge to WLBT’s license (in Jackson, Mississippi) in 1964,” he said, “television was a new medium and it was one of the few means of mass communication. Today the broadcast television stations are joined by cable and satellite television, and computers, the Internet, and social media, just for starters.”

But today, he added, because of media consolidation, “90 percent of what see, hear or read” comes from a handful of privately owned corporations. “This is dangerous,” he said, “and counter to what Everett Parker and so many others fought for in the 1960s. In short, it is contrary to media diversity.”  Shelton remarks as prepared for delivery.

The United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, Inc., the media justice ministry of the Protestant denomination of 5,700 local congregations, established the Parker Lectureship in 1983 to recognize Parker’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public’s rights in broadcasting.

Besides recognizing Shelton’s advocacy for diversity in the media and his instrumental role in the passage of key pieces of federal legislation, today’s event also honored two other advocates for the public interest in telecommunications.

Albert H. KramerAlbert H. Kramer received the Everett C. Parker Award, recognizing an individual whose work embodies the principals and values of the public interest in telecommunications. Among other achievements, he founded the Citizens’ Communication Center and spent 20 years on the board of directors of the Media Access Project and the Communications Consortium Media Center.

Kramer recalled how his organization and other media reform advocates built on Parker’s work. Then he challenged the audience: “We must of course think through the potential to create unforeseen difficulties. But concerns about unintended consequences, even foreseeable consequences, cannot be an excuse for failing to address the problems that confront us today.  Would anyone seriously argue that we are not better off today for having addressed blatant racial and sexual discrimination even if you do believe that addressing those problems did, in fact, contribute to the more difficult issues of cultural, institutionalized and subtle discriminations now facing us?”  Kramer remarks as prepared for delivery.

Malkia Amala Cyril, founder of the Center for Media Justice and co-founder of the Media Action Grassoots Network (MAGNet), received the Donald H. McGannon Award, given in recognition of special contributions in advancing the roles of women and persons of color in the media, and in Cyril’s case, the media reform movement.

In her acceptance speech, Cyril sang the song that her mother sang to her when she went to bed in the tough Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn where she grew up. She recalled the forces that shaped her activism, then added, “In the musical and artistic tapestry of our family, against bone-crushing opposition to the civil rights and black power movements, and in the context of murderous youth criminalization and anti-gay homophobia that threatened her child’s life-- the core beliefs of my mother’s young adulthood bloomed into the organizing principle that political change depends upon cultural change.”

She then observed, “All over this country we are winning through faith, we are winning through big agape love, we are winning through collaboration, we are winning through grassroots leadership, and we are winning through cultural change--and we will keep on winning.  Cause my mama said, “Lay down little while!” She said, “Just keep on rolling!”  She said, “Trouble soon be over!” Cyril remarks as prepared for delivery.

Speakers at the event also celebrated the leadership of Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in pushing the Federal Communications Commission to vote in August to end the exorbitant telephone rates that families and friends of prisoners were often forced to pay to stay in touch with their loved ones. The issue had been highlighted at the Parker Lecture in 2012.

Photo Credits:  Liz Roll

The United Church of Christ is a faith community rooted in justice that recognizes the unique power of the media to shape public understanding and thus society.  For this reason, UCC’s Office of Communication, Inc. (OC, Inc.) works to create just and equitable media structures that give meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas.  Established in 1959, OC Inc. ultimately established the right of all citizens to participate at the Federal Communications Commission as part of its efforts to ensure a television broadcaster in Jackson, MS served its African-American viewers during the civil rights movement. 

The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ has 5,700 local congregations across the United States.  It was formed by the 1957 union of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

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