Law, Comms, and Diversity: Maurita Coley Works At the Intersection of Policy And Tech

February 27, 2013  |  


With Maurita Coley, there is a special opportunity to look at a unique intersection of government policy and technology through a legal standpoint  that is quite sensitive to the demographic of color in the country. Coley, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Washington, D.C.-based Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), knows that the fight for balance and justice, as it pertains to the tech space, is only just beginning.

Through the work at MMTC, you could end up with a more fair price in your phone data charges, make certain that your cousins in rural areas have Internet access and much more.  I’ve known Maurita for some time, but I’d like to now take you inside her world.

Current Occupation: Chief Operating Officer, Minority Media and Telecommunications Council

Favorite website: You mean next to and Probably I’m addicted to books, and I love the ability to read book samples, either online or on my Kindle.

Favorite read: This is harder than asking me my favorite film! Reading is my favorite thing to do next to writing, although I do not have much time to do either right now. But if I had to pick one, I’d say The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, a charming parable about life.

Recent read: I read multiple books at the same time. Right now I’m reading: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-Blindness by Michelle Alexander; Blueprint for Black Economic Empowerment: A Moral, Political, and Economic Imperative for the Twenty-First Century, by Amos Wilson, Ph.D; Science of Being Great by Wallace D. Wattles; and The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.

2013′s ultimate goal: Find the bend in the time continuum because there is so much I want to do.  I’d like to create jobs and business opportunities for at least 10 people or businesses, then another 10, and so on. In 2013, I’ll also dust off, finish, and sell my novel.

Quote Governing Your Mission or a Quote that Inspires You: I have both. My personal mission statement probably explains my somewhat diverse career (diverse for a lawyer):  “I initiate and promote ideas that snatch people out of darkness.”

As for a quote that inspires me… probably one of my favorite quotes by Charles Hamilton Houston, former dean of Howard University’s School of Law during the 1930s:  “A lawyer’s either a social engineer or … a parasite on society … A social engineer [is] a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who [understands] the Constitution of the United States and [knows] how to explore its uses in the solving of problems of local communities and in bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.”

But recently I heard Dr. Maya Angelou say these amazing words on humanity and philanthropy: “In choosing how to live our lives, we must remember that some of us were born with a silver spoon, while others were born with a spoon with holes in it when it’s raining soup.”

Twitter handle: @MauritaColey

Madame Noire:   How did you select Georgetown and what led to your interest in law?

Maurita Coley: I have been in Washington on and off since 1978, but I am born and bred in Detroit. I came to Washington as a Michigan State University senior and did my final semester as an extern with The Washington Center. My assignment for the semester was a journalism externship with The Washington Monthly Magazine. Denise Barton, a Georgetown Law student and a dear friend and mentor from MSU, let me sleep on her sofa bed for the semester (the externship was unpaid). She and her law school study partners were often at the apartment studying, and they all took me under their collective wings.  But once they learned that I wanted to be a writer, they convinced me I should go to law school so I could get better writing assignments, such as the White House beat. I never went back to journalism, but at my core, I’m really a writer-advocate more than a traditional lawyer.

MN:  Loving that term, “writer-advocate”! So I know one of your first main gigs was working in legal at BET.  How did you get your position at the company?

MC: I was one of BET’s outside counsel – back then I was a young partner at the Cole Raywid & Braverman (now Davis Wright Tremaine) law firm, a prominent cable television boutique law firm. I was BET’s communications counsel, but whenever Debi Lee, BET’s then-General Counsel (now CEO) called me, I tried to help resolve whatever problems they threw my way – communications or not.  My partners at Cole Raywid were very entrepreneurial and even owned and built the cable system in Loudon County, VA.

Our clients were primarily small independent operators and programmers in the cable television and satellite communications businesses, giving us a lot of hands-on business experience in the industry. By working directly with entrepreneurs, I learned early in my career that legal problems usually have a business solution that’s better than the legal solution.

Bob Johnson, BET’s Founder and CEO, identified lawyers as either “deal-makers or deal-breakers,” so I’m happy that Bob and Debi apparently saw me as a deal-maker because, after two years in the legal department, they moved me to a business position – Senior VP of Network Operations and Programming – the number two person in charge of all BET’s production and programming operations. I had known both Bob and Debi before I joined them at BET. When BET went public, Debi Lee’s responsibilities as General Counsel increased exponentially, plus she was the publisher of BET’s magazines, Emerge, and YSB, so she needed help. I went in-house as her Senior Vice President, Legal Affairs.

I thought I was just going over to “help out” for a while, but I stayed on the BET management team for six years. BET was at once the most rewarding and probably the most challenging position of my career.  I’d never worked for a minority-owned and controlled company. It was a beautiful experience. I worked hard and was able to see the fruits of my labors on an almost instantaneous basis.

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