Emma L. Bowen dedicated her life to ensuring that young people of color had the same opportunities as their white counterparts. After successfully working with New York Senator Jacob Javits to end the unwritten policy preventing black youth from being pages in the United States Senate, and serving as Executive Secretary and Director of Community Relations for the New York City Community Mental Health Board, she turned her attention to the media industry. She was concerned about the negative and distorted images of people of color in the media and their potential impact on the next generation of diverse leaders, as well as a lack of advancement for black journalists and other media industry employees of color.
Emma Bowen took on these challenges by joining with a group of community activists to form Black Citizens for a Fair Media (BCFM). BCFM went directly to media executives at major television networks, New York City-based flagship television stations, and major station groups to develop new initiatives that promoted diverse hiring and training, created community affairs positions to better relationships between the media and local communities, and made efforts to improve the images of people of color on television.
When some stations refused to meet with Bowen and BCFM, the organization responded by filing challenges to the renewal of their broadcast licenses with the FCC until the companies agreed to take part. In Bowen’s words, as she prepared for a court battle with public television producers and broadcasters, “The most effective way to make public tv respond and change is to take it to court.”
As BCFM reached its goal of igniting change in media hiring and producing, Emma Bowen turned to the future of the industry by joining with Dr. Everett Parker and Dan Burke to build a pipeline of young diverse talent for the industry by founding the Emma Bowen Foundation. She continued to be an advocate for equality in the media and opportunity for young people of color until her death in 1996.
“Actions speak louder than words.”