Malkia A. Cyril’s Acceptance Speech for the McGannon Award
October 1st , 2013 in Washington, D.C.
When I was a child growing up in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, at the beginning of what would be a long history of troubled sleep, my mom would sing this song to me as the gun shots and other sounds ricocheted in the background: lay down body/lay down little while/trouble soon be over/lay down little while/just keep on rolling/lay down little while/trouble soon be over/lay down little while.
What my mother knew then, what I would only learn later, is that song can not only put a child troubled by violence to sleep, it can raise that child to dream, and raise a nation of dissidents to voice, to action, to power.
My mother learned this lesson as blood kin to musicians like Carmen McCrae, writers like Michelle Wallace, and artists like Vivian Skyler Key.
She raised this lesson to core belief, first as a member of SNCC teaching literacy on the protest line, and then as a leader in the Black Panther Party, running their New York breakfast program, editing the national newspaper, launching liberation schools throughout New York City, and organizing to oppose bias against queer youth that looked like me.
In the musical and artistic tapestry of our family, against bone crushing opposition to the civil rights and black power movements, and in the context of youth criminalization and the murderous anti-gay homophobia that threatened her child’s life– the core beliefs of my mother’s young adulthood bloomed into the principle that would grow to organize my life’s work—“political change depends upon cultural change”. And she lived that principle, even as she was forced to explain the terms faggot, superpredator, crack baby, welfare mother to me as I grew in the 80’s and 90’s, just as her elders had once explained the N word to her. Even in the cover of night singing to her eldest child, even as she sickened into end stage sickle cell, even unto her death in 2005. She lived that principle and demanded that I live it too.
It was toward the end of her life, that I had the honor founding the Center for Media Justice, and joined a small group of committed media activists and community organizers at the Highlander Center in Tennessee– where the term media justice came to coin the vision for a transformed media system. A media system that agitated; a media system that reflected new relations of power, new conditions, new consciousness, and new culture. Because we believed that the future of this country depends upon transforming the official stories– and the rules and platforms that orchestrate the telling.
My mother’s song said lay down body/lay down little while. And I had no idea then that it was in a thousand allied arms in which I would find rest. The kind of rest that came from realizing that neither the work nor the win depended upon me alone. If I could accept this award, then give it back to you, I would- because the award is yours. The victory is ours.
The victory belongs to the social merger that prevented AT&T’s economic merger that would have devastated the pocketbooks of the poor and fattened the wallets of the wealthy.
The victory belongs to Prometheus Radio Project, who organized to make the Community Radio Act more than a pipe dream; it was a pied piper, calling communities to their licensing rights, and turning radio into the tool for change it promised to be.
The victory belongs to the incarcerated families and criminal justice organizers who partnered with the leaders of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, and our civil rights, faith, and public interest allies who amplified the strategy. Together we took on the prison phones industry and their predatory practices, and won big.
The victory belongs to the Urbana Champagne Independent Media Center, the Media Mobilizing Project, the Media Literacy Project, the Institute for Local Self Reliance, the Community Media Workshop, Media Alliance– and all the local leaders who are standing up to say enough is enough- we demand a truly democratic media and nothing less.
The victory belongs to you, the United Church of Christ, for through each fight you have remained a strong ally, a powerful leader, and a dedicated servant to under-represented communities. I’m humbled and honored to receive an award named for the impressive work of Donald McGannon. McGannon called for standards and social responsibility in broadcasting. All over this country, social movements stand on his shoulders as they transform political relationships by connecting the mechanisms of culture to the mechanisms of power.
All over this country, we are winning through faith. We are winning through big agape love. We are winning through collaboration. We are winning through grassroots leadership; and we are winning through cultural change. And we’re gonna keep right on winning. Cause my mama said lay down little while. She said just keep on rolling. She said trouble soon be over. And I listen to my mama.
With or without their bodies, our mothers’ songs remain. With or without media rights and access, our dissident voices will still rise. In the words of one MAG-Net leader, there are no voiceless people, only people ain’t been heard yet. But we will be, I guarantee it. They can shut down the government, but they will never shut down the people.