Last night, the Walter Kaitz Foundation held its 31st Annual Kaitz Dinner, a fundraiser that raised over $1.4 million from sponsors, attendees, and supporters, and attracted a star-studded array of guests from the media and telecom industries. Among the guests were BET Networks Chairman and President Debra Lee, NuvoTV comedian Erik Rivera, and all-star performers from Fox’s hit show So You Think You Can Dance, including an appearance by host Cat Deeley. The highlight of the night, though, was the Foundation’s presentation of its annual awards: The 2014 Diversity Advocate Award was presented to Federal Communications Commissioner and former Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, and the 2014 Diversity Champion Award was presented to BET Networks.
Fighting Negative Stereotypes by Celebrating Our Voices
In the ongoing tide of media promoting a steady stream of negative images of minority men and women – from demonizing immigrants to painting slain, unarmed, black 19-year-old Michael Brown as a violent thug – it is vital that we fight back by promoting the positive images and successes that are rampant within our communities, but often invisible in the mainstream media. Awards ceremonies like the Kaitz Foundation’s Annual Dinner help to not only recognize and reward the achievements of those from diverse communities, but also to counterbalance the negative perceptions that plague many minority groups in this nation.
We applaud Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Debra Lee, and BET for their awards, and for the years of tireless work and advocacy they have put forth that will continue to impact and inspire millions to come.
Commissioner Clyburn: A Diversity Advocate.
The Kaitz Foundation presents its annual Diversity Advocate Award to an individual outside the cable industry who has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to diversity and has fostered an inclusive environment for the cable telecommunications industry. There is no one more deserving of such an award than Commissioner Clyburn.
MMTC has previously lauded Clyburn’s achievements as both commissioner and acting chairwoman on multiple occasions. During her tenure, she has advanced policies that align with MMTC’s mission – promoting and preserving equal opportunity and civil rights in the mass media and telecom industries, and closing the digital divide – by leaps and bounds.
Her many achievements include:
- Demystifying and defending the Universal Service Fund’s longstanding program to help the poor secure Lifeline telephone service
- Initiating the FCC’s revitalization of the E-rate program, which provides funding for low-income schools and libraries to access vital telecommunications services
- Introducing the participation of minority and women business enterprises (MWBEs) as a key factor in the Wireless Competition Report to Congress, the FCC’s annual study on the extent and vitality of competition in the mobile wireless industry
- Initiating an historic vote that placed a cap on predatory interstate prison phone rates, thus providing immediate relief to inmates and their families
- Granting a waiver to Thomasville, GA, radio station WHGH-AM, the only voice for minority listeners in its market, to resume its operations after the FCC previously shut it down due to an administrative error through which it failed to renew its license on time
- Commencing the first systemic FCC Hispanic television study as part of the Commission’s commitment to encourage broadcast diversity
- Promoting minority broadcast ownership by relaxing archaic foreign ownership restrictions
- Taking proactive steps to revitalize AM radio, the entry and heritage technology for minority broadcasters, two-thirds of whose stations are on the AM band
- Approving the largest minority spectrum deal in U.S. history
…among countless other accomplishments. In presenting her award, the Kaitz Foundation cited Commissioner Clyburn’s role as a “longtime champion of consumers and a defender of the public interest;” her fight to “to promote strong competition across all communications platforms;” and her push for “for media ownership rules that reflect the demographics of America, affordable universal telephone and high-speed internet access, greater broadband deployment and adoption throughout the nation, and transparency in regulation.”
We look forward to Commissioner Clyburn’s continued stalwart leadership and advocacy on behalf of the American people as she enters the final two years of her second term with the Commission.
BET Networks: A Diversity Champion.
The Kaitz Foundation presented its 2014 Diversity Champion Award to BET Networks, recognizing the metamorphosis the network has undergone since Debra Lee took its helm as President and CEO in 2005. Her move to increase the network’s production budget by 50 percent, and to shift its focus to support families, encourage their dreams, and present fresh talent through 16 new shows in 2007, completely revitalized the network. MMTC inducted Lee into our Hall of Fame during our Access to Capital and Telecom Policy Conference this summer in celebration of her achievements, and we’re elated that she and BET are receiving more recognition for their achievements.
In presenting BET with its award as a diversity champion, The Kaitz Foundation cited a laundry list of reasons as to why it was deserving, including:
- A trailblazing tradition, having maintained one of the most diverse workforces in the industry since its inception, while developing programming that represents and appeals to a diverse audience
- A commitment to providing its audiences with quality entertainment that speaks to where they are in their lives and where they want to go
- Uplifting content, with specials that raise awareness of important issues and celebrate the achievements within the African American community, including “Black Girls Rock!” “BET Honors,” and “H.I.S. BET”
- Its commitment to enhancing and empowering the communities it serves through its various charitable contributions and numerous pro-social initiatives
- The involvement of its employees, who make meaningful contributions to a wide variety of community initiatives, including through over 2,400 volunteer hours mentoring students thanks to a partnership between BET Networks and College Bound
- Its on-air presence through a number of campaigns where it uses its airtime and talent to address critical issues in the community; programs include the BET Next Level Challenge and the Emmy Award-winning BET Rap-It-Up Campaign
“The Walter Kaitz Foundation is privileged to name BET Networks the 2014 Diversity Champion for putting diversity at the forefront of its business success,” said the Foundation. “BET has woven into its mission social and philanthropic efforts designed to positively impact the African-American community.”
A Commitment to Recognizing Greatness
In the 31-year history of its Annual Dinner, The Walter Kaitz Foundation has played a large part in amplifying positive, diverse voices and shining the spotlight on organizations and individuals whose commitment to diversity inspires us all. We laud the Foundation for helping to change the tone surrounding minority potential and achievement, and we hope its full list of noteworthy past awardees will serve as an inspiration to those who may follow in their footsteps.
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).