WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – “Two Black men, not former slaves, educated, came together to say, ‘We must plead our own cause,’ March 16, 1827, 50 years before slavery was abolished. Centuries later we are still saying the same thing. We must plead our own cause. This is the power of the Black press.”
That’s how Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer opened the Black Press Week luncheon held March 18 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association.
Each year the 69-year-old federation of more than 200 publishers of Black newspapers gathered in the nation’s capital to celebrate the continuation of the brave work of John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish, who published the first Black newspaper in America. Their best known quote: “We wish to plead our own cause.”
“Whenever I am around Black journalists I think a people must tell their own story or live with his story,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson to the capacity crowd at the National Press Club. “In so many ways our press has been the lone star in the darkness. We are on the front side of bad news and the backside of good news. You represent the stone that the builders rejected and in time that stone will be the cornerstone.”
Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., executive publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel, the oldest and largest Black newspaper west of the Mississippi, is the new NNPA chairman. He is also known as a champion of Black economic self-determination.
He was introduced as a “courageous, in your face, polite and a leader.” “Can you be all of those things?” asked Mrs. Rolark-Barnes. “He is transforming the Black press,” she added.
Mr. Bakewell opened by talking about the harsh times facing the country, the journalism industry and Black America. “The Black press deserves what we get if we don’t tell our own story,” he said. “Who are we as a people if can’t speak for ourselves? We are on a mission in the Black press. We have to have that uppermost on our minds.
“We have to set a tempo and pace so young people can aspire to be journalists and publishers. I come to D.C. to talk for Black people. How can you give billions to major corporations and not hold them accountable?”
Mr. Bakewell spoke of the impact NNPA had on the Congressional Black Caucus. “It is our newspapers that gives them the courage to stand up in Congress and say ‘no.’ Our Black communities are falling apart at the seams and no money is coming to help them. Black newspapers are getting nothing. If we don’t tell our story it’s our fault. We have to hold our communities and leaders accountable.”
“We’re not asking for anything but respect and reciprocity. We represent 14 percent of America and we want 14 percent of everything happening in the federal government. We must hold each other accountable to ensure that our people are served. We have the authority to plead our cause,” he said.
Mr. Bakewell said the NNPA audience is some 19.5 million Black readers each week and Blacks represent 25 percent of Ford Motor Company’s market share–but Black newspapers get no advertising dollars.
“We’re looking for a partnership not a fight,” he continued. “If we are 25 percent of your market share, we want 25 percent of your resources. The platform we’re sitting on is for the success of Black America. We wish to plead our own cause. We know the stories of Black people.”
“There is no Black minister or leader who didn’t rise without the help of the Black press. Now every Black leader on Capitol Hill is under assault. We’ve got to use the organs we have to tell our story,” said Mr. Bakewell.
He described how racism in allocation advertising dollars was part of the problem with Ebony and Jet magazines, which are struggling to survive. “They don’t care if you read Ebony or Jet. They will force you to read something else,” Mr. Bakewell noted.
He received a standing ovation after his remarks. His words set a tone and pace that had publishers throwing their hands up and cheering.
Mr. Bakewell’s comments were followed by words of encouragement from National Urban League President Marc Morial, NAACP Chair Roslyn Brock, Harry Alford, of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Dr. Ron Daniels, president of the State of the Black World 21st Century, and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College.
“There’s a new sheriff in town,” said the longtime Chicago Crusader publisher Dorothy R. Leavell, who chairs the NNPA Foundation and is a former NNPA chair. “You thought you had trouble with me …. They wanted to throw me out of the organization, put me in jail because a woman dared to bring Minister Farrakhan in the organization and honored him for the Million Man March,” said Ms. Leavell.
Danny Bakewell, she added, is a kindred spirit.