Members of the Black press, led by a cadre of dedicated publishers and joined by corporate partners, elected officials and grassroots leaders, recently met in Ft. Lauderdale for a series of meetings and workshops that focused on ways to better utilize the latest technology, promote public policy and increase revenue via digital investments.
With the theme “Strengthening Black-Owned Newspapers: Training, Innovation and Technology,” the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), representing over 200 Black-owned publications from across the nation, held its annual mid-winter session during a time to which one of the organization’s leaders referred as “a propitious moment in history.”
“This is a propitious moment in history and the Black Press of America is needed today more than ever, given the current challenges and opportunities that are before Black America,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the NNPA. “While we’re celebrating and recognizing the 190th anniversary of the Black Press in the U.S., it’s incumbent that we continue to lead in championing issues of freedom, justice, equality and economic empowerment.”
Chavis made special mention to several corporations who attended the conference and supported the ongoing efforts of the NNPA through advertising dollars and in-kind donations.
“We especially thank our partners: General Motors, Chevrolet, Ford Motor Company, Reynolds American, Inc. (RAI) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” he said. “We’d also like to thank our sponsors: Volkswagen, Ascension, Coca-Cola and the American Association for Cancer Research.”
Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer and chairwoman of the NNPA, agreed with Chavis, adding that the meeting of the Black Press comes at a time of great importance and timeliness.
“The conference falls on the heels of the recent inauguration of President Donald Trump and the resounding call by women who marched in the U.S. and around the world demanding both dignity and human rights for all,” she said. “It also comes at a time when the freedom of the press, a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, has come under attack, impacting all media including the Black Press.”
The Rev. William J. Barber II, who electrified viewers and participants during last summer’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, gave the keynote address on Wednesday, Jan. 25.
In his speech titled “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” Barber took on issues including voter suppression, white supremacy, white evangelicalism and today’s unpredictable political climate.
“This isn’t the first time that white supremacy has occupied the White House,” said Barber, president of the North Carolina state chapter of the NAACP and a leading voice of the Moral Mondays movement.
“Before any Russian hack, the American electoral process was hacked by systemic racism and fear. Voter suppression has been proven, voter fraud has been disproven. You scratch a liar and you’ll find a thief. Trump won because of the voter suppression that went on in the Black community,” Barber said.
Barber also cited American political history, referring to periods when fusion politics, or the combined efforts of poor whites and Blacks working together, brought about political empowerment in the South. He said we must return to such partnering.
“I’ve got a suspicion that it’s going to be some fiery times – that it’s going to get hot. But if you go in the fire standing up, God can transform the fire and that same fire meant to destroy you can become a fire of deliverance,” Barber said.
“Somebody has to write from the perspective of crisis even if the crisis doesn’t end immediately,” he said. “Somebody has to make sure there’s a witness that the Black Press didn’t go along with it. We’ve been through Jim Crow and we’ve been through the Trail of Tears. We’re gonna stand up in this moment.”
Other highlights from the conference included an education workshop with close to 200 high school students from the Broward County Public Schools, beneficiaries of a law signed by President Obama in December 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and addresses the educational achievement gap.
Members of the NNPA and the National Urban League (NUL), including NUL President and CEO Marc Morial and an estimated 60 chapter leaders from around the U.S., pledged to support one another’s efforts in the coming year.
The highlight of the conference, the conferring of the NNPA Lifetime Achievement Award to Robert W. Bogle, chairman, president and CEO of The Philadelphia Tribune, emphasized the long and storied history of the Black Press. The Tribune stands as the nation’s oldest newspaper serving the Black community.
“I am not what you would call a great speaker. Still, in accepting this award from you, my peers, I find that words cannot express my thanks, my gratitude,” said Bogle who asked his staff to stand, noting that the success of his paper could not be possible without the efforts of those who work for the Tribune.
The NNPA will reconvene March 22-24 for Black Press Week in Washington, D.C. and June 20-24 for their annual convention in Oxon Hill, Maryland at the National Harbor.