I wept during my interview of the late Dorothy Height, President of the National Council of Negro Women during the 2008 Democratic Convention. I was overwhelmed by her majesty, grace and the knowing that my generation had not honored her life of tremendous sacrifice. I pledged to honor great men and women like her by encouraging youth to not be perfect; but to do better. Thus, on December 27th, it felt like I was struck by a ton of bricks when I viewed the Oxygen Media pilot of their offensively titled All My Babies' Mamas. As dysfunctional and violent as so-called reality shows are, I never imagined a one hour spectacle being scheduled for broadcast, where 11 innocent children are forced to witness their 10 unwed mothers clamor for financial support, emotional attention and sexual reward from their so-called 'father'? Now erased from the Internet, the 'show' depicted the most egregious stereotypes of black families, exploitation of innocent children, an attack on all parents and those heroes who serve vulnerable populations.
Where were the failures in checks and balances that a team of television executives that thought that this content was appropriate to market to Oxygen Media's young, female audience? Knowing that this irresponsible content had crossed the line, I created my first petition ever on Change.org. Outraged consumers shared the petition on social media, while fellow coalition members ignited their networks: Kimberly Clark; The Parent Television Council; Gary Johnson, Publisher, Black Men in America; Mo' Kelly, radio talk show host on KFI/ KTLK, Paul Porter, founder of Industry Ears/Rap Rehab and Ulysses "Butch" Slaughter of The Odyssey Project.
Over the following two weeks, a diverse coalition of over 37,000 adults and youth: gender, marital status, race and geography, penned impassioned appeals to Oxygen Media, demanding that this media exploitation be cancelled immediately. Those in the hip hop and rap communities chimed, "This is foul. No way is this cool!" Petitioner K. Hunter of Georgia wrote: "It is a sad day in our society when we place the denigration of the family unit on television for public consumption. The reality is that reality television has gone too far." Notably, single mothers unanimously wrote, "I won't support Oxygen Network or their advertisers who want to mirror the pain in my life for your entertainment. My life is not entertainment. I thought Oxygen Media was about uplifting women." Educators and non-profit leaders who labor to erase the influence of dangerous imagery opined, "This show would have a tragically adverse effect on our children."
Each day, and with zero response from Oxygen Media, the appeals of our petitioners grew louder: "Oxygen Media, Enough Is Enough!" Before our Coalition's petition delivery in New York City, Los Angeles and Philadelphia on January 15th, the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., I reflected on his famous quote, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Every nation in its social fabric has one sacred code: that children and youth matter. Adults can sacrifice their lives, but when children are impacted, a line is drawn. My other heroine, the late C. Delores Tucker warned that this day would come; that the crisis that children and young people are forced to experience and witness under the guise of 'entertainment' is directly because adults have failed them.
Meanwhile, to no avail, I telephoned and wrote to Oxygen Media CEO Jason Klarman and NBC/Universal/Comcast CEO Stephen Burke offering to provide introductions to seasoned television producers who could provide compelling and responsible content. Advertising Age.com published, "Oxygen Earns Marketing Failure in Response to All My Babies' Mamas Outcry: Show Is So Wrong That It Has Ignited Ire of Four Groups That Don't Often Agree." Other national radio, television and print media outlets reported and commentators supported our coalition's petition. We were then advised by a highly placed source, six days before we officially announced on January 15th that All My Babies' Mamas would never see the light of day.
We continued to educate others on how our petition was different from other reality show protests. Bigots chimed: "The truth hurts doesn't it? You want to hide that y'all are a bunch of porch monkey breeders!" We were asked why we did not target other shows. The response was: Why didn't you?' When we explained about the exploitation of children, we are asked why we didn't target Honey Boo Boo? The response was: "We await your action on Honey Boo Boo and we will support you." "What about the Bad Girls Club?" Our reply: "Lead the way!" You should just change the channel! Our response: "So child exploitation on another channel makes you feel better?" "Who do you think you are?" Our response: "Read the petition. Our names are there. Another question: "How will he pay for his child support? Our reply: "Child exploitation is not for sale."
On all reality shows, adults have the right to embarrass themselves to their heart's content; but adults do not have the moral or ethical right to exploit innocent children who have no choice but to witness their parent's chaos. Children and young people deserve responsible programming from compassionate adults who produce television and financially profit from their exploitation.
On January 15th, when the petitions were delivered in each city, and media outlets bombarded Oxygen Media press managers with confirmation that the show had been cancelled, their publicist finally issued a statement to TheGrio.com, confirming what we already knew: that the show was cancelled.
With our united coalition and petitioners, television history was made on January 15, 2013. However, there are still lingering, unanswered questions. Why aren't there experienced producers, especially African-Americans, who can green-light compassionate programming for young people? Why did Oxygen Media decide to create violent and misogynistic programming for young women?
While we search for solutions, young people report that they are proud of this victory. They were waiting for the adults to stand up for them. And during Women's History Month, our coalition hopes that somewhere C. Delores Tucker and Dorothy Height are smiling.