To Grow Our Future in Technology, Look to the Past

Your Take: The next generation of black innovators needs to continue the work started by two pioneers who worked to ensure digital access for all.

Posted:
 
blacks-in-tech-stock-image
Generic image

Thinkstock

History doesn’t just happen. History starts with a vision. 

In the early 1980s, Rep. George T. “Mickey” Leland, who was then chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, envisioned a more inclusive telecommunications and media world.

A decade later, the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown recognized that the power of the Internet could unlock a brighter future for our children with better economic and educational opportunities.

Today, our leaders are writing history with critical decisions that will affect the future of the mobile revolution and the transition to all-Internet-based networks.

Mickey was weary of seeing stereotypical depictions of blacks and Hispanics in the media and was disappointed at the low rates of minority ownership and employment in the media and telecommunications industries. He understood that media ownership and employment would determine not just how white America saw black people but how black people saw themselves.

Equally important, he knew that electronic media and technology were going to be among the principal drivers of our economy and would present tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities for decades to come. And, being a great politician, he understood one other thing: He knew that times of great disruption bring great opportunity.

The media and telecommunications landscape was undergoing massive disruption in the 1980s. The historic AT&T was broken up into seven “Baby Bells.” New competitors such as MCI and Sprint were entering the telecommunications marketplace. Broadcasting was expanding from the three historic networks, and media-ownership opportunities were proliferating. And, perhaps most importantly, the cable-television industry was maturing and expanding.

Mickey was a strong supporter of innovation and technological advancement. But he made sure that every industry, even the most innovative industries, knew that his support for their efforts came with a condition: their support for increased opportunities for minorities and women.

Mickey fought for changes in the way minorities were portrayed by television broadcasters and movie producers; he drove the FCC to establish linkup and lifeline programs to increase telephone penetration rates in low-income communities; he fought for and won increased opportunities for ownership of radio and television stations by minorities; and, perhaps most importantly, he wrote legislation codifying increased employment and vendor opportunities for minorities in the cable-television industry. Those equal employment opportunity provisions became the model for other media industries, including the broadcasting industry.

Over the past 30 years, hundreds of thousands of minorities and women employees of media companies, in addition to thousands of cable vendors, benefited from Mickey’s hard work and vision. While the media and telecommunications industries are not as diverse as they could be, vast strides have been made as a result of Mickey’s vision and leadership.

Comments
The Root encourages respectful debate and dialogue in our commenting community. To improve the commenting experience for all our readers we will be experimenting with some new formats over the next few weeks. During this transition period the comments section will be unavailable to users.

We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your continued support of The Root.

While we are experimenting, please feel free to leave feedback below about your past experiences commenting at The Root.