Bishop Steve Smith, executive director of the Rainbow Push Coalition Media and Telecommunications Project (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Bishop Steve Smith, executive director of the Rainbow Push Coalition Media and Telecommunications Project (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Standing on the pillars of strength, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. along with the entire Rainbow Push Coalition (RPC), an organization started by the civil rights activist to help continue to progress the lives of Black people through policy, education and equality, recently held its 10th annual Media and Teleco Symposium.

With a desire to help more Black Americans advance in the field of technology and communications, Bishop Steven Smith, inaugural executive director of the RPC Media and Telecommunications Project, sat down with The Washington Informer for an in-depth interview on the future and goals of Blacks in media and the overall progress of the organization:

WASHINGTON INFORMER: Thank you so much for doing this interview. You’re looking rather dapper, I might add.

STEVEN SMITH: (Chuckles) Thank you so much, the pleasure is all mine.

WI: So tell me, it has been 10 years, you’ve been here from the start, talk to me about what this means to you.

SMITH: Ten years has been an awesome experience — and a major learning curve (laughs). First of all, I’m a history major, so when I first started I knew very little about media and telecom. But to see how our conversations have expanded from talking about media ownership and just gaining access to cell phones for our people — to now discussing 3G, 4G, 5G, types of different devices and access to broad bands has been tremendous. … We’re in the middle of what I call the new civil rights movement — a digital equity, and to know that I am now a part of history is amazing.

WI: That’s very interesting. Talk about that a little more “the new civil rights movement,” what do you mean by that?

SMITH: So [Rev. Jackson] calls it the fourth move, or the fourth shift, in the civil rights movement. At one time we were talking about going from being slaves to being free, to gaining access to voting rights, and now were are talking about gaining access to media, technology, Wi-Fi … equity in those arenas. We’re living in a new world now and in some degree society has tried to cut us out of existing and advancing in that world and so the fight is now for that.

WI: You know it’s interesting that you say that, because when I’m out and about in any city, I do notice that the more affluent areas usually have better wifi service and faster speeds versus lower income regions. Talk about some of the major advances that have come out of these symposiums.

SMITH: Bringing attention to these issues. I think many of the communities that have been shut out don’t even know it, that this is going on, despite a lot of it being intentional. We’ve been so used to the traditional world. Newspapers and radios are still necessary; however, new media ventures do exist and we have to make sure that we are a part of that.

WI: This may be a question for the reverend, but how did you even know 10 years previously that this was even going to be an issue?

SMITH: That is more of a Reverend question, but I will say that even though this project is 10 years old, our media and telecom project emerged out of our wall street project and of course RPC is big on economic justice, so out of that birthed different projects.

WI: That’s very impressive. What’s next for RPC?

SMITH: For the media and telecom project, we are actually taking on a new initiative that we are planning to openly announce very soon. In 2018 we will open our own digital advocacy center in the Washington, D.C., area. It will have a policy side to it, a digital tech side and advocacy to ensure the that the word is out on what is really happening in our communities and to really galvanize this push.

WI: Sounds like a winner. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

SMITH: As always, my pleasure.

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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