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boyd, Torres and Bowen Honored at 33rd Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture

boyd, Torres and Bowen Honored at 33rd Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture

Leading media reform advocates were honored today as a media executives, faith leaders and media justice advocates gathered at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington for the 33rd Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture.

danah boyd, founder of the Data & Society Research Institute, delivered the 2015 Parker Lecture, asserting that “one of the things that I’ve learned is that, unchecked, new [technology] tools are almost always empowering to the privileged at the expense of those who are not.”

    Also honored at the event were Joseph Torres, senior external affairs director of Free Press, who received the Everett C. Parker Award in recognition of his work embodying the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications, and Wally Bowen, co-founder and executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), who received the Donald H. McGannon Award for his dedication to bringing modern telecommunications to low-income people in rural areas.

    In her address, boyd described how “digital white flight” from certain technology platforms had mirrored the problem in the traditional world, and how predictive data technologies, if not used thoughtfully, had the potential to exacerbate stereotyping. “More and more,” she concluded, “technology is going to play a central role in every sector, every community, and every interaction. It’s easy to screech in fear or dream of a world in which every problem magically gets solved.  But to actually make the world a better place, we need to start paying attention to the different tools that are emerging and learn to ask hard questions about how they should be put into use to improve the lives of everyday people. Now, more than ever, we need those who are thinking about social justice to understand technology and those who understand technology to have a theory of fairness.”

    The United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, Inc. (OC Inc.), the media justice ministry of the Protestant denomination of 5,700 local congregations, established the Parker Lectureship in 1983 to recognize Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public’s rights in broadcasting.  In 1963, Parker filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission that ultimately stripped WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, of its broadcast license and established the principle that the public could participate in matters before the agency. This year’s event included special remembrances of Parker, who died on September 17, 2015, at the age of 102.

    In her remarks, boyd said, “We are here today because Dr. Parker spent much of his life fighting for the rights of others--notably the poor and people of color, recognizing that the ability to get access to new technologies to communicate and learn weren’t simply privileges, but rights.  He challenged people to ask hard questions and ignore the seemingly insurmountable nature of complex problems. In the process, he paved a road that enables a whole new generation of activists to rally for media rights.” Click here for the full text of boyd’s remarks.

    In his acceptance speech, Torres, co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, said: “The struggle for racial justice is very much dependent on access to the media so we can tell our own stories. But this is hard to do when you’re dependent on corporate gatekeepers to tell your story, when people of color own few broadcast stations and cable outlets, when our nation’s media policies are shaped by structural racism.

    “This is why the fight over the future of the open Internet, over Net Neutrality, is so central to this struggle for racial justice.  It’s provided the digital oxygen that has helped breathe life into the movement that cries out ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘Not One More’ and ‘Say Her Name’.”  Click here for the full text of Torres’s remarks.

    Bowen was recognized for his leadership in building the Mountain Area Information Network in western North Carolina, and then working to bring a low-power FM station, local cable access channels and broadband access to his community. Monroe Gilmour, coordinator of Western North Carolina Citizens Ending Institutional Bigotry, accepted the award on behalf of Bowen, who suffers from ALS.  In a statement that Gilmour read on his behalf. Bowen noted that his work had been inspired and supported by his own faith community, Jubilee, in Asheville, NC, and quoted the words of theologian Frederick Buechner: “Your true vocation is found in that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”  Click here for the full text of Bowen’s remarks.

    The Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ, recalled the legacy of Everett Parker in his remarks: “Unlike others for whom strong rhetoric was enough, Everett always looked for action that mattered. He was one who got things done--and his commitment to  ensuring that every marginal voice would have access to the airwaves not only mattered . . . not only matters still . . . but was something almost every other justice advocate missed. He didn't.”

    The Rev. Truman Parker, son of Everett Parker, detailed his father’s long list of accomplishments beyond the WLBT case, including creating educational shows for children and preparing reports on the early days of religious broadcasting. Parker recalled a childhood home that was filled with props for the shows his father produced and boxes of filings on the hiring practices of television and radio stations to which his father had demanded access.

    In a review of OC Inc’s successes of the past year, Board Chairman Earl Williams Jr. praised the FCC’s plans to move forward this week on further capping predatory prison telephone rates. He also commended the agency for its Open Internet Order and for moving forward on making broadband Internet access more affordable for low-income households.

    Since its founding in 1959, the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, Inc., has worked to create just and equitable media structures that give a meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas. The Parker Lecture is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective. More information is available at

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Joe Torres' 2015 Parker Lecture Remarks

I want to say how incredibly honored I am to receive this award named after Dr. Parker.

I had the honor of meeting Dr. Parker on a couple of occasions, and I feel so grateful to be a part of the struggle that he and so many others spent their lives fighting.

People of color have always struggled and fought to make sure their voices are heard in the media. It’s why we created our own newspapers 200 years ago and why we go online today.

But it has never been in the interest of those in power to allow our voices to speak or be heard.

It wasn’t in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s when Dr. Parker and Black local civil rights leaders challenged the TV license of WLBT, a racist station that used the public airwaves to prevent integration and preserve a separate and unequal society. 

At the time, U.S. residents didn’t have the legal right to challenge a broadcast license, even one run by a white supremacist. But the UCC lawsuit changed history when a federal court ruled that everyday people could challenge FCC policy.

This unleashed a new era of media activism.  Black and Brown civil rights leaders demanded that broadcasters hire people of color and air programming that informed rather than demonize their communities.

From 1971–1973, more than 340 license challenges were filed, mainly by civil rights groups. This uprising forced the industry to hire the first wave of journalists of color to integrate its newsrooms.

But 40 years later, it’s easy to be discouraged by the lack of progress. There are too few journalists of color working in newsrooms today and still too much media coverage that marginalizes our community.

Because throughout history, people of color have been covered as a threat to society.

Back in the early 1700s, the colonial Boston News Letter wrote that Blacks were addicted to stealing and lying.

In 2011, a Pew report on the Pittsburgh media market found that “Of the nearly 5,000 stories studied in both print and broadcast, less than 4 percent featured an African American male engaged in a subject other than crime or sports.”

As the journalist Stacey Patton recently said, “The American mainstream media is working exactly the way it should. A racist society requires media bias. A racist society requires coverage of people of color that aligns and overlaps with broader racist sentiments and stereotypes.”

The struggle for racial justice is very much dependent on access to the media so we can tell our own stories. But this is hard to do when you’re dependent on corporate gatekeepers to tell your story, when people of color own few broadcast stations and cable outlets, when our nation’s media policies are shaped by structural racism.

This is why the fight over the future of the open Internet, over Net Neutrality, is so central to this struggle for racial justice.  It’s provided the digital oxygen that has helped breathe life into the movement that cries out Black Lives Matter, Not One More and Say Her Name.

But while the Internet can be a tool for liberation, we know it can also be used as a tool for our oppression through mass government and corporate surveillance.

But we’re able to fight back today because Dr. Parker and Black leaders fought in Jackson to ensure our voices weren’t silenced.

We’re able to fight because Al Kramer of the Citizens Communications Center worked with the community to force broadcasters to hire people of color.

We’re able to fight because William Wright of Black Efforts for Soul in Television organized the Black community to stand up to institutional racism in the media.

We’re able to fight because Emma Bowen was troubled by the impact of the media on the Black community and founded Black Citizens for a Fair Media.

We’re able to fight because journalists like Juan González and Charlie Ericksen (two close friends and mentors of mine) have exposed the media bias that is harming the Latino community.

And we’re able to fight today because a new generation of activists is demanding a just media system that ensures broadband is an affordable lifeline, that fights predatory prison-phone rates, that fights the targeted surveillance of communities of color, that fights for an open Internet that allows our voices to be heard and never silenced, and that fights for journalism that seeks to expose institutional racism rather than protect it.

This is why I’m honored to receive this award. It validates that we are on the right path that so many have fought so hard for us to walk on.

I want to thank my Free Press family for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this noble struggle, especially Craig Aaron, Kimberly Longey, Matt Wood and Misty Perez Truedson.

I also want to thank my media justice and civil rights family: Malkia Cyril, Steven Renderos, Brandi Collins, Rashad Robinson, James Rucker, Jessica Gonzalez, Michael Scurato, Alex Nogales and so many others for allowing to me to lock arms with them in service to this struggle, because in order to achieve racial justice, we must have a just media system.

I also want to thank my family, my wife, for all of their support. I especially want to thank my wonderful daughter Charis who is with me today.

I am also so proud to stand alongside Wally Bowen, who has fought to ensure people have access to modern telecommunications regardless of where they live or how much they make.

Finally, I want to thank Chance Williams for flying to be here today and Cheryl Leanza, the United Church of Christ and the selection committee for believing I am worthy of this recognition.

Rest in power, Everett Parker.

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dana boyd's 2015 Parker Lecture Remarks

danah boyd

I am both honored and humbled to be with you today.  Today is a day of celebration and mourning, a reminder that life and death are deeply connected and that what we do with our time on this earth matters. We are here today because Dr. Parker spent much of his life fighting for the rights of others - notably the poor and people of color, recognizing that the ability to get access to new technologies to communicate and learn weren’t simply privileges, but rights.  He challenged people to ask hard questions and ignore the seemingly insurmountable nature of complex problems. In the process, he paved a road that enables a whole new generation of activists to rally for media rights.

I’m here today to talk with you about battles underway around new internet-based technologies.  I’m an ethnographer, which means that I’ve spent the bulk of my professional life trying to map cultural practices at the intersection between technology and society.  It’s easy to love or hate technology, to blame it for social ills or to imagine that it will fix what people cannot. But technology is made by people. In a society.  And it has a tendency to mirror and magnify the issues that affect everyday life. The good, bad, and ugly.


I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, where I struggled to fit in. As a geeky queer kid, I rebelled against the hypocritical dynamics in my community. When I first got access to the internet - before the “World Wide Web” existed - I was like a kid in a candy store. Through early online communities, I met people who opened my eyes to social issues and helped me appreciate things that I didn’t even understand.  Transgender activists who helped me understand gender.  Soldiers who helped me understand war. Etc.  Looking back, I often think of the internet as my saving grace because the people that I met - the *strangers* that I met - helped me take the path that I’m on today. I fell in love with the internet, as a portal to the complex, interconnected society that we live in.

I studied computer science, wanting to build systems that connected people and broke down societal barriers. As my world got bigger, I quickly realized that the internet was a platform and that what people did with that platform ran the full spectrum. I watched activists leverage technology to connect people in unprecedented ways while marketers used the same tools to manipulate people for capitalist gain. I stopped believing that technology alone could produce enlightenment.

In the late 90s, the hype around the internet became bubbalicious and it was painfully clear that economic agendas could shape technology in powerful ways.  After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, I was a part of a network of people determined to build systems that would enable people to connect, share, and communicate. By then, I was also a researcher trained by anthropologists, curious to know what people would do with this new set of tools called social media.

In the early days of social network sites, it was exhilarating watching people understand that they were part of a large global network. Many of my utopian minded friends started dreaming again of how this structure could be used to breakdown social and cultural barriers. Yet, as these tools became more popular and widespread, what unfolded was not a realization of the idyllic desires of many of the early developers, but a complexity of practices that resembled the mess of everyday life.


Let’s talk youth for a second. As social media was being embraced, I was doing research, driving around the country talking with teenagers about how they understood technology in light of everything else taking place in their lives. I watched teens struggle to make sense of everyday life and their place in it. And I watched as privileged parents projected their anxieties onto the tools that made visible the lives of less-privileged youth.

Not surprisingly to many people in this room, as social media exploded, our country’s struggle with class and race get entwined with technology.  I will never forget sitting in small town Massachusetts in 2007 with a 15-year-old white woman I call Kat talking about her life when she made a passing reference to why her friends all quickly abandoned MySpace and moved to Facebook because it was safer and MySpace was boring. Whatever look I gave her at that moment made her squirm. She looked down and said, “It’s not really racist, but I guess you could say that. I’m not really into racism, but I think that MySpace now is more like ghetto or whatever.”

I was taken aback and started probing to learn more, to understand her perspective. “The people who use MySpace—again, not in a racist way—but are usually more like ghetto and hip-hop rap lovers group.”  As we continued talking, she became more blunt and told me that black people use MySpace and white people use Facebook.

Fascinated by Kat’s explanation and discomfort, I went back to my fieldnotes. Sure enough, numerous teens had made remarks that, when read with Kat’s story in mind, made it very clear that a social division had unfolded between these two sites during the 2006-2007 school year.  I started asking teens about these issues and heard many more accounts of how race affected engagement. After I posted an analysis online, I got a response from a privileged white boy named Craig.

“The higher castes of high school moved to Facebook. It was more cultured, and less cheesy. The lower class usually were content to stick to MySpace. Any high school student who has a Facebook will tell you that MySpace users are more likely to be barely educated and obnoxious. Like Peet’s is more cultured than Starbucks, and Jazz is more cultured than bubblegum pop, and like Macs are more cultured than PC’s, Facebook is of a cooler caliber than MySpace.”

A white girl from Westchester in NY, explained: “My school is divided into the “honors kids,” (I think that is self explanatory), the “good not-so-honors kids,” “wangstas,” (they pretend to be tough and black but when you live in a suburb in Westchester you can’t claim much hood), the “latinos/hispanics,” (they tend to band together even though they could fit into any other groups) and the “emo kids” (whose lives are allllllways filled with woe). We were all in MySpace with our own little social networks but when Facebook opened its doors to high schoolers, guess who moved and guess who stayed behind.”

This was not the first time that racial divisions became visible in my research. I had mapped networks of teens using MySpace from single schools only to find that, in supposedly “integrated” schools, friendship patterns were divided by race. And I’d witnessed and heard countless examples of the ways in which race configured everyday social dynamics which bubbled up through social media. In our supposedly post-racial society, social relations and dynamics were still configured by race.  But today’s youth don’t know how to talk about race or make sense of what they see.

And so, in 2006-2007, I watched a historic practice reproduce itself online.  I watched a digital white flight. Like US cities in the 1970s, MySpace got painted as a dangerous place filled with unsavory characters while Facebook was portrayed as clean and respectable. And with money, media, and privileged users behind Facebook, it became the dominant player that attracted everyone.  And racial divisions just shifted technology.  Instagram and Vine, for example.

Teenagers weren’t creating the racialized dynamics of social media; they were reproducing what they saw everywhere else and projecting them onto their tools. And they weren’t alone. Journalists, parents, politicians, and pundits gave them the racist language that they reiterated. And today’s technology is valued - culturally and financially - based on how much it’s used by the most privileged members of our society.


Let’s now shift focus.

Thirteen years ago, when a group of us were sitting around a table trying to imagine how to build tools that would support rich social dynamics, none of us could’ve imagined being where we are now. Sure, there were those who wanted to be rich and famous, but no one thought that a social network site would be used by over a billion people and valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars. No one thought that every major company would have a “social media strategy” within a few years or that the technologies we were architecting would reconfigure the political and cultural landscape.  None of us were focused on what we now know as “big data.”

“Big data” is a fuzzy amorphous concept, referencing a set of technologies and practices for analyzing large amounts of data.  These days, though, it’s primarily a phenomenon, promising that if we just have more data, we can solve all of the world’s problems. Of course, the problem with “big data” isn’t whether or not we have the data, but whether or not we have the ability to make meaning from and produce valuable insights with data. And this is often trickier than one might imagine.

One of the perennial problems with the statistical and machine learning techniques that underpin “big data” analytics is that they rely on data entered as input.  And when the data you input is biased, what you get out is just as biased. These systems learn the biases in our society. And they spit them back out at us.

Consider the work done by Latanya Sweeney, a brilliant computer scientist. One day, she was searching for herself on Google when she noticed that the ads displayed were for companies offering criminal record background checks with titles like: “Latanya Sweeney, Arrested?”, thereby implying that she may indeed have a criminal record. Suspicious, she started searching for other, more white-sounding names, only to find that the advertisements offered in association with those names were quite different. She set about to more formally test the system finding that, indeed, searching for black names were much more likely to produce ads for criminal justice products and services.

This story attracted a lot of media attention. What the public failed to understand was that Google wasn’t intentionally discriminating or selling ads based on race. Google was unaware of the content of the ad. All it knew is that people clicked on those ads for some searches but not others and so it was better to serve them up when the search queries had a statistical property similar to queries where a click happen. In other words, because racist viewers were more likely to click on these ads when searching for black names, Google’s algorithm quickly learned to serve up these ads for names that are understood as black. In other words, Google was trained to be racist by its very racist users.

Our cultural prejudices are deeply embedded into countless datasets, the very datasets that our systems are trained to learn on. Students of color are much more likely to have disciplinary school records than white students. Black men are far more likely to be stopped and frisked, arrested of drug possession, or charged with felonies even when their white counterparts engage in the same behaviors. Poor people are far more likely to have health problems, live further away from work, and struggle to make rent. Yet all of these data are used to fuel personalized learning algorithms, risk-assessment tools for judicial decision-making, and credit and insurance scores. And so the system “predicts” that people who are already marginalized are higher risks, thereby constraining their options and making sure they are, indeed, higher risks.

This was not what my peers set out to create when we imagined building tools that allowed you to map who you knew or enabled you to display interests and tastes. We didn’t architect for prejudice, but we didn’t design systems to combat it either.

Lest you think that I fear and despise “big data”, let me take a moment to highlight the potential. I’m on the board of Crisis Text Line, a phenomenal service that allows youth in crisis to communicate with counselors via text message. We’ve handled millions of conversations with youth who are struggling with depression, disordered eating, suicidal ideation, and sexuality confusion. The practice of counseling is not new, but the potential shifts dramatically when you have millions of messages about crises that can help train a system designed to help people. Because of analytics that we do, counselors are encouraged to take specific paths to suss out how they can best help the texter. Natural language processing allows us to automatically bring up resources that might help a counselor or encourage a counselor to pass the conversation onto a different counselor who may be better suited to help this particular texter. In other words, we’re using data to empower counselors to better help youth who desperately need our help. And we’ve done more active rescues during suicide attempts than I like to count. So many youth lack access to basic mental health services.

But the techniques we use at CTL are the exact same techniques that are used in marketing. Or personalized learning. Or predictive policing. Let’s examine the latter for a moment.  Predictive policing involves taking prior information about police encounters and using that to make a statistical assessment about the likelihood of crime happening in a particular place or involving a particular person. In a very controversial move, Chicago has used such analytics to make a list of people most likely to be a victim of violence. In an effort to prevent crime, police officers approached those individuals and used this information in an effort to scare them to stay out of trouble.  Surveillance by powerful actors doesn’t build trust; it erodes it. Imagine that same information being given to a social worker. Even better, to a community liaison. Sometimes, it’s not the data that’s disturbing, but how it’s used. And by whom.


Knowing how to use the data isn’t easy. One of my colleagues at Microsoft Research - Eric Horvitz - can predict with startling accuracy whether someone will be hospitalized based on what they search for.  What should he do with that information? Reach out to people? That’s pretty creepy. Do nothing. Is that ethical? No matter how good our predictions are, figuring out how to use them is a complex social and cultural issue that technology doesn’t solve for us. In fact, as it stands, technology is just making it harder for us to have a reasonable conversation about agency and dignity, responsibility and ethics.

Data is power. And, increasingly, we’re seeing data being used to assert power over people. It doesn’t have to be this way, but one of the things that I’ve learned is that, unchecked, new tools are almost always empowering to the privileged at the expense of those who are not.

Dr. Parker understood that. He understood that if we wanted less privileged people to be informed and empowered, they needed access to the same types of quality information and communication technologies as those who were privileged.  Today, we’re standing on a new precipice.  For most media activists, unfettered internet access is at the center of the conversation. And that is critically important. But I would like to challenge you to think a few steps ahead of the current fight.

We are moving into a world of prediction. A world where more people are going to be able to make judgments about others based on data.  Data analysis that can mark the value of people as worthy workers, parents, borrowers, learners, and citizens. Data analysis that has been underway for decades but is increasingly salient in decision-making across numerous sectors. Data analysis that most people don’t understand.

Many activists will be looking to fight the ecosystem of prediction, regulate when and where it can be used.  This is all fine and well, when we’re talking about how these technologies are designed to do harm. But more often than not, these tools will be designed to be helpful, to increase efficiency, to identify people who need help. And they will be used for good alongside uses that are terrifying.  How can we learn to use this information to empower?

One of the most obvious issues is that the diversity of people who are building and using these tools to imagine our future is extraordinarily narrow. Statistical and technical literacy isn’t even part of the curriculum in most American schools. In our society where technology jobs are high-paying and technical literacy is needed for citizenry, less than 5% of high schools even offer AP computer science courses.  Needless to say, black and brown youth are much less likely to have access let alone opportunities. If people don’t understand what these systems are doing, how do we expect people to challenge them?

We must learn how to ask hard questions of technology and those making decisions based on their analysis. It wasn’t long ago when financial systems were total black boxes and we fought for fiduciary accountability to combat corruption and abuse. Transparency of data, algorithms, and technology isn’t enough; we need to make certain assessment is built into any system that we roll-out.  You can’t just put millions of dollars of surveillance equipment into the hands of the police in the hope of creating police accountability.  Yet, with police-worn body cameras, that’s exactly what we’re doing. And we’re not even trying to assess the implications. This is probably the fastest roll-out of a technology out of hope, but it won’t be the last. So how do we get people to look beyond their hopes and fears and actively interrogate the trade-offs?

More and more, technology is going to play a central role in every sector, every community, and every interaction. It’s easy to screech in fear or dream of a world in which every problem magically gets solved.  But to actually make the world a better place, we need to start paying attention to the different tools that are emerging and learn to ask hard questions about how they should be put into use to improve the lives of everyday people. Now, more than ever, we need those who are thinking about social justice to understand technology and those who understand technology to commit to social justice.

Thank you!

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Many join in remembering Dr. Parker's life

In the days since Dr. Parker's passing last week, we've received and seen so many kind emails, notes and statements about the impact Dr. Parker had on the media and social justice landscapes.  We wanted to share these kind words with everyone.  Please do share your memories of Dr. Parker with us below.  We'll be compiling these and sharing further at the Parker Lecture with a special celebration of his life on October 20, 2015 in Washington DC.

In addition to the national UCC statement, obituaries ran in the New York Times and the Washington Post.


--WASHINGTON, September 17, 2015

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler issued the following statement today on the death, at the age of 102, of Rev. Dr. Everett Parker, the man responsible for the public having the ability to challenge FCC actions:

“It was with a heavy heart that I learned of the passing of Rev. Dr. Everett Parker this morning. Dr. Parker was instrumental in ensuring the public could have its voice heard at the FCC, and perhaps no single person has had a greater impact on this country's communications landscape. I was privileged to know Dr. Parker and see his work close up.”


I just got word that a civil rights giant, Rev. Dr. Everett Parker, passed away this morning. Considered by many a founder of the “Media Justice Movement,” he established the United Church of Christ Office of Communication, “a media reform and accountability ministry with a civil rights agenda.” He was committed to improving the coverage and employment of women and people of color in broadcasting and other media before it was “cool."

In 1964, along with the NAACP and at the urging of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Parker petitioned the FCC to deny the license renewal of WLBT, a local broadcast station in Jackson, Mississippi with ties to the White Citizens Council. The station openly used its platform to oppose the integration of the local universities. While the FCC denied their petition, the Supreme Court – in 1969 – ruled that the broadcast industry was required to serve the public interest and the station was ultimately stripped of its license. This case was foundational in determining that there is a recognized connection between the use of publicly-owned airwaves by private companies and a duty to serve the public.


I met this incredible man around the time of his 97th birthday. He was engaged, supportive and sage (forecasting the day when there would be a female chair of the FCC). I never forgot those words and sent him a note thanking him for voicing that sentiment during my term as Acting Chair.


As an FCC Commissioner completing her sixth year of federal service, I will never turn my back on the important legacy and work of Everett Parker. Too many take for granted the fruits of his labor. I never will.


Well done. Rest in Peace.

Everett Parker was a special hero of mine.  I counted on his wisdom, his unique perspective, and his impassioned commitment to media justice and the public interest while I was at the FCC and after.  He made history in opening up the media, not just in the south, but across the land.  He kept up the fight for media that reflect the great diversity of America long after his historic victory on WLBT.  Our best memorial to this truly great American is to keep fighting for the principles he fought for and personified.

-- Michael J. Copps, Common Cause, former FCC Commissioner and former Acting FCC Chair

I join the United Church of Christ-Office of Communications  family in mourning the transition of Reverend Everett Parker. His visionary leadership opened the doors of opportunity to broadcast media for me and thousands of others.


The landmark UCC v FCC case had its roots in challenging racially discriminatory broadcast practices at Lamar Life Broadcasting licensee WLBT TV in Jackson, Mississippi. It was the same station that civil rights leader Medgar Wiley Evers began petitioning in 1957‎ for an opportunity to speak on behalf of the black community. He was finally permitted time on WLBT in 1963. One month later, Evers was assasinated. Many believe that his appearance on WLBT made him a target.


Two years later, Reverend Parker began what would become a decades-long license challenge to WLBT-TV,as well as a battle against the FCC which wanted to renew WLBT'S license (The saga is described in meticulous detail in CHANGING CHANNELS by Kay Mills). I do not know for sure, but I would like to believe that Reverend Parker selected WLBT, in part, to finish the work that Evers so bravely began.


During his years in Mississippi, Reverend Parker also faced threats to his own safety and that of others who assisted him in the complicated and expensive effort leading to the landmark  UCC  v FCC decision. When broadcasters realized that "...public interest, convenience and necessity.." in the 1934 Communications Act meant  all  of the public, barriers to hiring , promotion and, eventually, ownership began to crumble.  Reverend Parker cannot receive too much credit for triggering  a revolution in media licensed by the  FCC.


After retiring from active status with the UCC-OC, Reverend Parker shared his wisdom with students and colleagues at Fordham University, where he served as an adjunct professor. He was also a  founder of the Donald McGannon Communications Research Center.

Randall Pinkston
Lamar Life Broadcasting /WJDX-FM & AM, WLBT-TV 
Post-Newsweek Stations /WJXT-TV, WFSB-TV 
Al Jazeera Media/Al Jazeera America 

Benton Foundation Celebrates the Life of Reverend Everett C. Parker

Reverend Everett C. Parker, director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ from 1954 until 1983, died on September 17, 2015. Parker played a critical role in the development of public interest of American television. His leadership led to the development of an influential media reform and citizen action movement in broadcasting; and his activism directed at improved broadcast employment prospects for women and minorities. The following statement may be attributed to Benton Foundation Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss:

“All of us at the Benton Foundation are saddened by the news of Rev Parker’s passing. His work inspires us, the public interest community, and all advocates for a better world. His mission, shared by the Benton Foundation, is to give help to people who are voiceless, so that they may be heard. In 2012, our founder, Charles Benton, received the Everett C. Parker Award in recognition of his many years of leadership and support for promoting the public interest in traditional and digital media. In accepting the award, Charles highlighted three lessons from Rev Parker’s life that serve for a model for us at the foundation: 1) The work has to be driven by an ethic. 2) You need patience; it takes a while to accomplish things. 3) Don’t be afraid of difficult challenges. We are thankful for these lessons today and embrace them as we endeavor to carry on Rev Parker’s work for years to come.”

Please also see:

Finding Your Voice” by Charles Benton (30th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Award)

Reform: The Everett Parker Way” by former FCC Chairman Michael Copps

I shouldn't feel sad. His life was a real beacon, and lived to 102, so what's to feel sad about? But I do. I met him only twice and just plain admired him.  I guess he makes me wish I had done more. He also gives me hope that I still can.

- Mike Hickcox

 former president of Religion Communicators Council, communications director Society of St Andrew

I am so sorry to learn of Dr Parker's passing.  He was and is one of the true models for me of living the life God gives us to the fullest of our potential and using that full life in service to others.

--Nicholas Miller, Best, Best & Krieger

World Association of Christian Communication
By Staff on September 17, 2015

Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker passed away on 17 September 2015 at the age of 102.

Dr. Parker was a member of WACC's Central Committee in the 1970s, representing both the North America Regional Association (NARA) and the North America Broadcast Section (NABS).

Dr. Parker had previously been a founding member of the US-based Radio, Visual Education and Mass Communication Committee (RAVEMCCO), one of the groups that later joined with the World Association for Christian Broadcasting (WCCB) to form WACC. 

From 1945 until 1957, Parker was a lecturer in communication at Yale Divinity School, and from 1949 until 1954, he also headed the Communication Research Project, the first major study of religious broadcasting. 

The project resulted in the definitive work on religious broadcasting for nearly two decades, The Television-Radio Audience and Religion, co-authored by Parker, David Barry and Dallas Smythe.

In 1957 he was the first director of Communications for the newly-formed United Church of Christ. In that role he founded the United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc., a media reform and accountability ministry with a civil rights agenda, that worked to improve the coverage and employment of women and people of color in broadcasting and other media.

Dr. Parker was named one of the most influential men in broadcasting by the trade publication Broadcasting Magazine and is featured in the Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television.

Democracy Now!

Remembering Everett Parker

(1913-2015), Father of Media Reform Movement

Broadcasting & Cable

Everett Parker Dies at 102

Tributes Continue for Everett Parker

Communications Daily

Everett Parker, 102, civil rights defender, founder of the United Church of Christ Office of Communication (UCC OC) and trailblazer in setting a precedent for public participation in FCC proceedings, died Thursday, longtime friends and allies told us. He died after a possible stroke at a hospital in White Plains, New York, said Cheryl Leanza, policy adviser to the UCC. In a 1966 U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decision against the FCC, UCC OC under Parker established the right of anyone to participate in proceedings before the agency, the group said. He directed UCC OC until 1983. Parker is survived by a son, a daughter, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Funeral details will be forthcoming, and donations can be made in his honor to UCC. Statements honoring Parker flowed in the hours after UCC OC announced his death Thursday, including from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and from Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. Parker was “the man responsible for the public having the ability to challenge FCC actions,” noted Wheeler’s statement. “Perhaps no single person has had a greater impact on this country’s communications landscape,” he said. Parker “was special hero of mine,” said ex-Commissioner Michael Copps, now Common Cause special adviser.

What Everett C. Parker Gave Me (intersections)

Editor’s note: Everett Parker was tough and feisty. He had to be in order to take on the racism during the civil rights movement and beyond through his pioneering work on behalf of the public interest in media. But as his wife, Geneva, became ill towards the end of her life, I was privileged to witness his softer side as he cared for her, fed her, spoke gently to her. These very private moments convinced me that his righteous anger was rooted in kindness and compassion, the surest way to accomplish sustained and transformative change. — Bob Chase

Everett C. Parker died this week at the age of 102.

Parker changed America and the world by leading the movement to hold broadcasters accountable to the public interest. Among many important accomplishments, he dedicated his life to establishing diversity in the media and opening opportunities to minorities and women. He understood and taught us that how news, art and programming is created makes a difference in the end-product. It does matter if women and people of color are behind the camera, in the anchor chair, running the stations, or even owning the stations.

On a personal note, my relationship with Everett taught me a lot about relationships, mentorship and love.

My own career started as a lawyer, working in 1970 with Ralph Nader in the public interest law firm called “The Public Interest Research Group” or PIRG. After a stint in Army JAG and a law firm, I returned in 1978 to take over an organization then called the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting (NCCB) at the request of Nader and Nicholas Johnson. NCCB was a citizen membership organization devoted to “talking back to our television station” as Johnson would say. NCCB had emerged based on the work of Everett Parker. The group challenged the license of broadcasters and established the rule that broadcast licenses were temporary grants to operate on behalf of the viewers and listeners, and therefore viewers and listeners could challenge how the broadcasters operated.

It was during this time that I met Everett. He wasn’t happy to see me — a new guy on the block, a kid who really had no experience in communications advocacy. Everett wanted to be sure that I was not in this for myself; but rather for the sake of the cause. It took me a good while to win his confidence.

There was a time in my career where my work became controversial among some of those in the “public interest community.” A lot of folks then (and still) see the world in “either/or” terms, and my work seeking middle ground with business angered a number of advocates. Everett reassured me and urged me on, believing that more gets done with building bridges than digging trenches. When the kitchen got hot for me I would often seek time with Everett who would not turn down the heat as much as reassure me that it came with the territory and that I should stay the course and sweat it out.

There are many things that I am thankful to Everett for, but one that stands out is his introduction of me to the Rev. Robert Chase who was Everett’s third generation successor at the Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ. Everett somehow knew Bob and I would become great collaborators and deep friends.

In some ways, I am here today writing this blog, performing my play (The Actual Dance), and doing the work that I was meant to do because Everett Parker loved me and supported me and introduced me to Bob.

I know I am not the only one who owes much of their own opportunity and success to his great spirit. My hope is that I can be as generous and loving to others as Everett was to me.

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Lifeline Expansion for Affordable Broadbland

In advance of the Federal Communications Commission vote to initiate a proceeding to consider the modernization of the low-income Lifeline program, Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry issued the following statement:
We are delighted that the FCC is taking this important step.  The Lifeline program has been successful since 1985 to help ensure low-income people have access to essential communications services.  Broadband is now an essential service, without which we cannot fully participate in society.  Along with our colleagues in the civil rights community, we have been asking the FCC to modernize the Lifeline program to support broadband since 2010.  The FCC should act swiftly to modernize Lifeline this year.

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Parker Lecture 2015 Lecturer Announced


danah boyd, named by Fortune magazine in 2010 as “the reigning expert on how young people use the Internet,” will deliver the 33rd annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Communication Lecture at the 2015 Parker Lecture and Breakfast.

The event, organized by the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, the Office of Communication, Inc., will be held at 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 945 G St. NW, Washington, DC.

At her core, danah boyd describes herself as “both an activist and a scholar” whose “research examines the intersection between technology and society.” With degrees from Brown, MIT and UC Berkeley, she is a visiting professor at New York University and a faculty affiliate at Harvard. For over a decade, her research focused on how young people use social media as part of their everyday practices. She documented her findings in two books: “Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media” (2009) and “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” (2014). She is also a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society Research Institute. “danah boyd brings a different perspective on current social media trends and the future of American society than we’re used to confronting,” says Earl Williams, OC, Inc. Board Chair. “Her thoughtful insights will both enlighten and challenge our audience.”

The Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture was created in 1982 to recognize the Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker, founder of OC, Inc., and his pioneering work as an advocate for the public's rights in broadcasting. The event is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective. Past speakers have included network presidents, Congressional leaders, and FCC chairs and commissioners, as well as academics, cable and telephone executives and journalists. More information is available at
The Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination with more than 1 million members and nearly 5,200 local congregations nationwide, recognizes the unique power of the media to shape public understanding and thus society as a whole. For this reason, the UCC’s OC, Inc. has worked since its founding in 1959 to create just and equitable media structures that give a meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas.
United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.
Cheryl A. Leanza, media contact

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FCC Moves to Provide Essential Technology to Low Income People

In response to FCC Chairman Wheeler’s announcement, the following can be attributed to Cheryl Leanza, policy advisor to UCC OC Inc.:


Broadband is essential for every aspect of modern life.  Today, even connections to our religious communities often takes place via broadband.  For all people to have equal opportunity, broadband must be affordable and Lifeline is the only way to make it happen.  Without affordable access, digital literacy will not increase, broadband adoption will not occur.  Affordable access is the linchpin. I am pleased to see the FCC intends to take action next month.  More than 50 groups have come out supporting support for low-income people's need for affordable broadband.

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GAO Report Bolsters Need for Lifeline Broadband Expansion

*Originally posted at

The Lifeline program allows our nation’s most vulnerable communities to maintain telephone service that would otherwise be unaffordable – service that is essential for connecting with loved ones, searching for employment, pursuing further education goals, engaging fully as citizens, and calling 911. But arecent GAO report, commissioned by Sen. John Thune, R. S.D., to evaluate the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) reforms to the Lifeline program, quickly drew fire from some Republican leaders. They allege that the FCC should not work on expanding the program to broadband until it addresses points raised in the GAO report.

But to call to a halt the FCC’s planned reform efforts based on this report would be to ignore its findings.

GAO found that the FCC has fully implemented seven reforms designed to increase accountability and strengthen internal controls. The most important reform—the duplicates database, which ensures that participating telephone companies are not double dipping – has been fully implemented. About 2.2 million duplicate enrollees were eliminated between 2011 and 2013 under the FCC’s reforms, saving $260 million.

And while Lifeline’s critics have alleged that the increase in the size of the program over the last 10 years is evidence of fraud, GAO found that the large increases in Lifeline enrollment may well have been because of increases in poverty. GAO found that the number of Lifeline-eligible households increased by 15 percent between 2008 and 2012, from 35 million to 40 million. SNAP enrollment also increased 64 percent from 2008 to 2012.

GAO faults the FCC for not explicitly stating affordability of phone service as a goal of the Lifeline program. As the FCC has pointed out, voice service is only available to fixed-income and low-income consumers to the extent it is affordable. Phone service is essential to modern existence, so the real issues should be whether low-income households can afford service without undue hardship. If needed, the FCC can easily and quickly formally adopt affordability as a goal, which is already mandated by the Communications Act.

GAO also questions whether the FCC has conducted a full-scale social science study on the Lifeline program to determine whether – without this program – some eligible individuals would still actually subscribe to telephone services. Just because a household with limited means makes sacrifices elsewhere in their budget to pay for phone service does not mean it is affordable. Research that shows the value of Lifeline does exist – and the FCC has relied upon it.

Criticisms raised by GAO – and Republicans aiming to use the report to halt planned reforms – are largely wasted energy, because they are focusing on a program to increase telephone adoption. And while reliable telephone service continues to be a serious issue for many low-income people and people on tribal reservations, broadband adoption actually overtook voice service as the most important communications concern a long time ago.

The FCC is about to begin the next phase of reform to expand Lifeline into supporting broadband, which will give it ample opportunity to implement GAO recommendations where they make most sense.

The need for expansion is urgent. Increases in broadband adoption rate are slowing and, in fact, posted a decline for the lowest income households in 2013. Pew Research Center recently found that 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed Internet service at home, constituting 40 percent of families with children between 6 and 17 years. And nearly half of Americans who have Internet access, but rely on smartphones for access, have had to cancel their cell phone service because of financial hardship.

In March, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights urged the FCC to protect and modernize the Lifeline program by implementing this type of expansion. “As broadband rapidly replaces voice service as the basic communications tool for our era, the FCC should rapidly update Lifeline to match the times,” the letter states. “Increasing broadband adoption will improve the economic well-being of those populations as well as the economic competitiveness of our country as a whole.”

Cheryl Leanza is policy advisor for the United Church of Christ's media justice ministry and co-chair of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Media and Telecommunications Task Force.

Patrick McNeil, digital communications associate at The Leadership Conference, contributed to this post.

- See more at:


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Mourning the Passing of Charles Benton

Charles and Marjorie Benton with Rev. Jesse L. Jackson at the 2012 Parker Lecture

Photo credit: Liz Roll

The United Church of Christ is mourning today's news that Charles Benton, chair and previous executive director of the Benton Foundation, passed away last evening.


"Charles has been a champion of the public interest in media and communications for so long, it will be difficult to imagine the space without him," said Cheryl Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor.  "Charles' passion for improving the lives of others was an essential part of who he was.  He never stopped looking for a way to press ahead."


"Charles was a great of example of using might for right," observed Earl Williams, Chair of OC Inc.  "We were so pleased to give him the Parker Award in 2012 as a tribute to his lifetime of work."


Leanza noted Charles' work included making provisions for the future of the Benton Foundation, "Even as he remained actively involved in media reform and communications rights, Charles was wise enough to put the Foundation in the capable hands of his daughter Adrianne Furniss, thus assuring the continued vibrancy of the Benton Foundation."


The prayers of the OC Inc. Board, staff, and volunteers are with Marjorie, Adrianne, and the rest of the Benton family and the Benton Foundation.

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Categories: press release

Letter to the Congressional Oversight Committee

March 16, 2015

Rep. Jason Chaffetz
Chair of the House Oversight & Gov’t Reform
2157 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Rep. Elijah Cummings
Ranking Member of theHouse Oversight & Gov’t Reform
2157 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Chaffetz and Ranking Member Cummings:

As racial justice and civil rights organizations, we write to express our support of the recent Federal Communications Commission decision to enact strong and enforceable Net Neutrality rules.

Our organizations are among the more than 100 racial justice and civil rights groups that have called on the FCC to pass strong Net Neutrality rules using its Title II authority. It is critical that the FCC have the legal authority to protect the online digital rights of communities that historically have been marginalized in our society. With such protections, our communities have been able to better participate in our democracy, tell our own stories, strive towards educational excellence and pursue economic success.

We are deeply troubled by Congressional efforts to overturn the Net Neutrality order and to strip the Commission of its legal authority to enforce its Net Neutrality protections under Title II of the Communications Act. This includes efforts to prevent the Commission from enforcing Net Neutrality by defunding the agency.

The Net Neutrality debate has centered on whether the Commission has the authority to enforce Net Neutrality rules that prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or discriminating against online content. A federal court ruled last year that the Commission could not ban such online discrimination without reclassifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II. Therefore, the FCC cannot protect Internet users from ISP practices such as blocking, throttling and other types of discriminatory conduct that could arise as the marketplace and technology evolves, without asserting its authority under Title II.

This is why more than four million people have called on the FCC to use its Title II authority to adopt strong and enforceable Net Neutrality rules over the past year.

Accordingly, we respectfully request that you join the millions of digital equality champions and support the FCC's historic decision, and reject any efforts to overturn or weaken the decision. You will be in good company, on the right side of public opinion and history.


Alliance for a Just Society
Black Alliance for Just Immigration Black Lives Matter
Center for Community Change Center for Media Justice
Center for Popular Democracy
Center for Rural Strategies
Center for Social Inclusion
Community Justice Network for Youth Demos
Dream Defenders
18 Million Rising
Ella Baker Center
Forward Together
Free Press
Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities Latino Rebels
Media Action Grassroots Network
Mexican American Opportunity Foundation
Million Hoodies Movement for Justice
Movement Strategy Center
National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) National Association of Hispanic Journalists
National Association of Latino Independent Producers National Economic & Social Rights Initiative
National Guestworker Alliance
National Hispanic Media Coalition
National Institute for Latino Policy
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
National People's Action
News Taco
Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say
Our Walmart
Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity
Radio Bilingüe
Race Forward
Right to the City Alliance
Roosevelt Institute Campus Network
The Librotraficante Movement
The Praxis Project
United Church of Christ, OC Inc.
United We Dream
Voices for Internet Freedom

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