The Emma Bowen Foundation (EBF) was founded in 1989 to diversify the media industry by giving talented students of color the opportunity to intern at some of the nation’s leading media companies. During its history, the Foundation has provided internships for more than 1,300 students of color. Today, EBF builds on its legacy by continuing to connect promising students of color to internships and advocating for best practices in hiring, retention, and advancement in the media and technology industries.
None of this would have been possible without the passion and dedication of the Foundation’s three founders – Emma L. Bowen, Rev. Dr. Everett Parker, and Dan Burke – and their shared commitment to diversifying the media industry and providing career opportunities for young people of color.
“Actions speak louder than words.”
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.
“I think the most important thing that I have done, in my whole life, is getting the EEO rules and starting the [Emma Bowen Foundation], which has put hundreds of minority kids into the broadcasting and cable industries.”
Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker advocated for racial equality on American television from his powerful position as director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ from 1954 until 1983. He led the Church’s public media activities and by the end of his career was named one of the most influential men in broadcasting by Broadcasting Magazine. Dr. Parker used this platform to fight for citizen’s rights and media reform, including better representation for people of color on the air.
After meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about discriminatory coverage at local TV stations in the South, Dr. Parker and the Office targeted WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, petitioning to deny renewal of their broadcasting license. In Dr. Parker’s words, “We found that there was such a terrible situation in Jackson, Mississippi with WLBT. It had a KKK bookstore on the property and it discriminated terribly against blacks.” The case was decided in the Office’s favor, leading to WLBT’s license being revoked in 1969. Other stations, afraid of the consequences of their discriminatory behavior, began racially integrating the content on their stations. Dr. Parker followed this victory with a successful petition to the FCC that led to the national adoption of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules for broadcasting.
In his later years, Dr. Parker turned his attention to issues of employment and opportunity in the media industry. He began working with Emma Bowen, Dan Burke, and other leaders to form the Emma Bowen Foundation and provide a clear path for young people of color to join the media industry. He remained a member of the Foundation’s board well into his 90s, and a supporter of the Emma Bowen Foundation until his death in 2015.
“There must be more time for us to address ourselves to the problems of this society and to apply television and radio to the greater good of our country.”
Dan Burke helped to shape the broadcasting industry while always keeping in mind the importance of media in shaping the world. He, and business partner Tom Murphy, built Capital Cities Communications from one television station in Albany, NY to a media company with print, television, and radio holdings, and then made history in 1986 when Capital Cities bought ABC for $3.5 billion in what was then the largest non-oil company merger in corporate history.
As President & CEO of Capital Cities/ABC, Dan Burke relied on the same principles that he did as a committed family man – directness, integrity, and involvement in the community. In an effort to make media a place of equal opportunity and representation for all, he joined with Emma Bowen and Dr. Everett Parker to develop the concept of a multi-year internship program to give young students of color the opportunity to be a part of the media industry, and contributed the seed money that made the Emma Bowen Foundation into a reality.
Dan Burke remained a supporter of the Emma Bowen Foundation through his retirement from Capital Cities/ABC in 1994 and beyond. His legacy of leadership in the industry and commitment to diversity in media is carried on by his son, Steve Burke, President & CEO of NBC Universal/Executive Vice President of Comcast, whose company is a leading partner of the Emma Bowen Foundation.