Minority Media and Telecommunications Council Cofounder and President David Honig is well-known as a tireless advocate for unserved and underserved communities. What is not so well-known is that his fight started in 1965, when Honig founded the Rochester, NY, youth chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at 15 years old. He has since rubbed elbows with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and remains friends with historic civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson. And in addition to his work leading MMTC today, Honig continues his fight by donating his time as the lead attorney on the ground for the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches.
At its 2013 Annual National Convention, the NAACP and its Legal Department presented several awards to civil rights leaders and advocates. Under Honig’s leadership, the Florida State Conference won this year’s Juanita Jackson Mitchell Legal Activism Award, named after the first African American woman admitted to the Maryland bar, for exemplary legal redress service. In addition, Honig himself won a Foot Soldier in the Sands Award, which “honors attorneys who have gone above and beyond the call of duty on behalf of the Association and its civil rights agenda.”
Honig and Florida State Conference-NAACP active in the Trayvon Martin and Voting Rights cases
The Florida State Conference has been part of several high-profile cases, including playing an instrumental role in the case against George Zimmerman for the slaying of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin.
“On March 12th , we [the Florida State Conference-NAACP Branches] wrote to the President and the Attorney General, and we asked that the FBI come in and that we get an investigation,” said Honig. “They granted our request, and had feet in the street immediately to preserve the evidence and investigate the case.”
The Florida State Conference also participated in the Shelby County v. Holder voting rights case in the Supreme Court and successfully litigated two other voting rights cases. Other Florida cases have gotten less press coverage outside the state of Florida, such as that of 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot, an African American high school student who faced felony charges after a science project she created exploded and caused no injuries or damage. Honig and the State Conference helped local counsel persuade prosecutors to drop the charges.
In spite of all his work, Honig doesn’t think it’s enough – he encourages a new generation to carry the torch.
More foot soldiers needed to fight the battle for social justice and racial inclusion, in the communications industries and beyond
As President of MMTC, Honig encourages MMTC staff to stay current on civil rights issues by taking on pro bono legal projects outside of the communications policy area. Of the 14 participating attorneys in the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches, four are staff or directors of MMTC: Honig, MMTC Chair Julia Johnson, Chief of Staff Dorrissa Griffin, and Director of Hispanic Affairs Wendy Rivera. MMTC Vice President/COO Maurita Coley volunteered as a Voter Protection Advocate during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. She also leads the financial literacy/“economic emancipation” initiative and supports the “stop the pipeline to prison” initiative as a board member of the Daniel Alexander Payne Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit community development organization affiliated with the Metropolitan AME Church.
Other MMTC staff members donate their time to civil rights projects both in and out of the telecom industry. Senior Attorney and John W. Jones Fellow Jacqueline Clary, and Earle K. Moore Fellow and Assistant Policy Director Latoya Livingston have held leadership roles with the Alliance for Women in Media. Senior Attorney and Cathy Hughes Fellow Joycelyn James has worked with communications law practitioners to encourage Washington football team owner Dan Snyder to change the team’s name to one that is not racially offensive. Staff Attorney Kenneth Mallory volunteers for Baltimore’s Homeless Persons Representation Project.
As evidenced by Honig’s and the MMTC staff’s efforts, the civil rights fight doesn’t stop in the telecom industry, with MMTC, or at the FCC. It’s vital that we encourage our young attorneys to continue the fight in all areas, as far as they can, because tragedies like the Trayvon Martin and Kiera Wilmot incidents are still all too common. Too many political leaders delude themselves that we are in a post-racial society, but the truth is, as Honig’s staff and other mentees often hear him intone, “Civil rights lawyers still don’t get much sleep.”
Marcella Gadson is the Editor in Chief of the Broadband and Social Justice Blog and Director of Communications at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC).