Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr. and Denise Rolark Barnes (Roy Lewis/ The Washington Informer)
Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr. and Denise Rolark Barnes (Roy Lewis/ The Washington Informer)

On Saturday, Oct. 16, The Washington Informer achieved another milestone, marking its 57th year of service to the greater Washington area as a Black-owned publication.

And while this may seem insignificant to some, it’s an achievement that should not go unnoticed. At the least, it’s important because of the challenges long faced by Black-owned businesses in the U.S.

In addition, as a business owned by a Black woman, Denise Rolark Barnes, that continues a legacy established by her father and the founder of the newspaper, Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr., The Informer represents a second-generation business.

Even more, one cannot discount the unprecedented challenges that all businesses have faced over the last year or so due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Calvin W. Rolark Sr.
(Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Persistence, ingenuity, hard work and a commitment to the mission first established by Dr. Rolark count as some of the reasons for our success and ability to keep the presses going and the doors remaining open.

Here are a few reflections from several members of The Washington Informer family.

Dr. Shantella Y. Sherman, special editions editor, who summarized the work as “Still Looking Out for the ‘Little Fellow.’”

“Frank Sinatra used to sing a song, ‘It was a very good year…’ That rings true for 1964. Change enveloped the world. That year in places like Rochester and Harlem New York, Dixmoor (Illinois) and Philadelphia (Pennsylvania), civil unrest erupted into rebellions.”

“Black America beamed with pride as Sidney Poitier accepted the coveted Academy Award for his portrayal of Homer Smith in ‘Lilies of the Field.’”

“A youthful boxer Muhammad Ali unseated Sonny Liston as heavyweight champion, and U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic nomination as New York’s candidate for U.S. Senate.”

“Locally, residents of the District of Columbia cast their ballots in a presidential election for the first time . . . and all was captured in the newly-minted Washington Informer newspaper – also born in 1964.”

“In 1977, The Washington Informer newspaper founder Calvin Rolark spoke before a Committee on Appropriations for the House of Representatives (95th Congress) seeking the approval of construction for what would become the D.C. Convention Center. His opening remarks included the following statement.”

“’One of the deans of the Congress, the now-deceased Wright Patman, gave me a wardrobe trunk when I went to college. One of his statements to me was, Rolark, whenever you grow up, always try to look out for the little fellow.  Look out for that guy that might be a little under you. That’s why I am here today, to speak on behalf of that little fellow.’”

“The advice proved prophetic for Rolark. In charting the course of the weekly newspaper, Rolark formulated a cherished community sounding board for District residents – often those most marginalized and disenfranchised. The Washington Informer provided a trusted and open microphone to the ‘little fellow’ that resounded through local government agencies and corridors of power. It also gave those advocating on behalf of or seeking outreach to closed-off communities, direct access.”

“The Washington Informer’s commitment to Black D.C. also helped develop the editorial techniques and discipline of hundreds of celebrated writers, photographers, graphic designers, and editors for nearly six decades. I am proudly counted among that number.”

“My tenure began with The Washington Informer in 2000 and included positions as freelancer, managing editor, WI Charities executive director and (currently) special editions editor. Each position has given me an opportunity to reinvigorate Rolark’s vision with new media, personal creativity, historical research and investigation.”

“Now, 57 years later, The Washington Informer continues its mission of serving as an ally to and advocate for D.C.’s overlooked residents, all while chronicling life in the shadows of the nation’s seat of power. Happy Anniversary . . . and Good Looking Out,” Sherman said.

William J. Ford, staff writer. 

“I’ve worked as full-time writer with The Washington Informer as a member of the Black Press since 2015 covering Prince George’s County. Because some of the county and school politics which extend into Maryland state government, the paper has allowed me to cover the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis for the past three years.”

“Being able to provide coverage of our local and state government ensures our readers know what’s going on in their lives. We’ve garnered respect for our professionalism and understanding in providing the community with factual and relevant information. The Informer’s notoriety has also allowed me and other writers to participate in journalism and community discussions. I’m fortunate to join a virtual discussion Nov. 10 with Prince George’s County and Maryland civil rights leaders to discuss combating lynching in America and fighting injustice in today’s society. The program will be livestreamed on the Prince George’s County NAACP branch’s Facebook Live and YouTube pages. This is one of the many missions of the Black Press: to educate and inform the community,” Ford said.

Oswald Brown, contributing writer, as posted on Facebook. 

“I joined the staff of this award-winning Black-owned newspaper in 1982 and was its news editor for more than 12 years when I initially lived in D.C. for 21 years before initially returning to my native Bahamas in 1992.”

“The Informer’s founder, the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, was more than my boss – he was one of my best friends. Dr. Rolark was one of the most unheralded leaders of the Civil Rights Movement nationally, but in the District of Columbia his contributions to the civil rights struggle were monumental. He was the founder of the United Black Fund (UBF), which funded more than 65 organizations that supported Blacks in the Washington, D.C., area and was usually referred to as the Black United Way.”

Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

“I am extremely proud of the excellent job Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, his daughter, and the staff of The Washington Informer do on a weekly basis in producing a first-class publication. Now that I am living back in D.C., I make a weekly contribution highlighting an important news item from Africa and the Caribbean.”

What’s next for The Informer? Consider these thoughts from WI Creative Director David Beckford.

We will gain access to increase readership through collaborations such as Black Press USA, Word In Black, News Break aggregator, Google News, Zenger and more. We will enhance our digital advancement, shaping editorial through application of analytics from Google and performance reporting

Relevant and new content series based on reader feedback and engagement.”

“We hope to increase access to more readers, viewers and listeners as we continue exploration of new mediums (podcast, video, photojournalism, etc.). We’re committed to better understanding our advertisers’ needs coupled with product development. And like other publications, we’re curating stories and disseminating information faster while actively participating in local policy which will ensure greater investment in the growth and sustainability of the Black press.”

“We anticipate receiving almost 2 million website visitors this year, reaching 20+ million people in social media and delivering over 6.8 million impressions through our digital imprint.”

“We have the benefit of 57 years of experience and we are a ‘thought leader’ in this space. This is our story,” Beckford said.

We’d like to hear what the community has to say. And we thank you for your support and encouragement throughout the years.

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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