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Black Press Faces Challenging, but Hopeful Future

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NNPA President Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. moderates panel on the Black Press (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen)

NNPA President Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. moderates panel on the Black Press (NNPA Photo by Freddie Allen)

by Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Jordan Shanks, a sophomore English major at Howard University admitted that before Black Press Week, he didn’t know much about the Black Press or the Richmond Free Press, the Black newspaper published in the Virginia city where he grew up.

“The state of the Black Press is impacted by the generation gap between the older folks and the younger folks,” said Shanks.

Members of the Black community, young and old, believe that bridging that gap will be critical to the future of the Black Press.

Despite myriad challenges facing the Black Press, Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of more that 200-Black owned newspapers, said that 188-year legacy of African American newspapers remains strategically important, insightful, indigenous and impactful.

“The challenge for us today, however, is to have a greater sense of economic accountability and economic equity and parity with those companies that are the profit beneficiaries of the trillion dollar consumer spending of [Black] people in the United States and throughout the world,” said Chavis.

“What is the state of the Black Press in America and in the world today? It is financial assessment time,” said Chavis. “The Black Press needs to be financially more sustainable and profitable.”

Chavis and others also echoed Shanks’ concerns about the generational and cultural gaps preventing young people from engaging with the Black Press.

E.R. Shipp, an associate professor and journalist-in-residence at Morgan State University in Baltimore, said that shortly after she began teaching a course on Black media at the school, she showed her students the documentary “The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords,” then she tasked them to start tracking Black newspapers online.

“Oh, my God, my students didn’t find too much to be impressed with,” said Shipp. “After seeing all of this glorious past, they saw a very disappointing present,” said Shipp. “Too many people involved in the Black Press today think that they are living that glorious past and they are not being real about what’s happening now.”

Many students have never heard of the Black Press, said Shipp.

“The challenge is not just to celebrate what has gone before, to celebrate that legacy, but to actually do something to make sure that the Black Press is known by the younger generation, embraced by the next generation, and eventually taken over by the next generation,” said Shipp. “But right now, I say the state of the Black Press is shaky as far as reaching beyond those who have grown up in the Black Press.”

Jake Oliver, former chairman of the NNPA and publisher of The Afro-American newspapers, said that there’s a demographic challenge that the Black Press needs to address.

“We seemed to get distracted by our quest to go after the dollars and we forget that we also have to go after readers,” said Oliver. He said that the playing field for newspapers has never been more level and that taking advantage of social media will be the key to capturing market share in the new digital news delivery space.

Oliver added that his staff at the Afro has grappled with social media for eight years, but saw a breakthrough about two years ago when Facebook started to allow users to “like” articles from their cell phones.

The number of “likes” on the Afro’s Facebook page jumped from 15,000 to 100,000 in a month, said Oliver. Now, the Afro’s Facebook page is closing in on 430,000 “likes” Oliver said, adding that the Afro also has 11,000 Facebook followers in India.

“I’m excited about what we’re about to do,” said Oliver. “Within the next 3-5 years, if not sooner, some startling innovations, not only technologically, but also as a result of some of the programs that the NNPA is about to promote and create, will form a foundation so that we can reconnect all segments of the community in a way that has never been done before.”

Chavis recommended developing new revenue streams, including a leased photographic images service, similar to Getty Images,  mounting regional polling services to take advantage of the upcoming 2016 election cycle, and launching a national public awareness campaign on criminal justice reform.

Shanks suggested that Black newspaper publishers show a greater willingness to engage in what’s going on with the younger generation through social media, especially through student government associations at Black colleges.

Shanks said that a negative experience with a reporter in the mainstream media influenced him to change his major from communications to English, but that he’s reconsidering a career in journalism after Black Press Week.

“[Black Press Week] taught me that you can be authentic in journalism and still tell the story,” said Shanks. “It’s about finding the audience that wants to hear it and the publication that wants to put it out.”

The upcoming 75th NNPA annual convention in Detroit, Mich., will also feature “the first day totally dedicated to uplifting, mentoring, and encouraging our youth to prepare for leadership and entrepreneurship” in the Black Press, said Chavis.

He added, “We have come a mighty long way from Freedom’s Journal [the nation’s first Black newspaper] to today. We have made progress. But we still have a long journey ahead.”

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Commentary

Biden’s “Plan” to Address the Racial Wealth Gap Won’t Cut It. Only Reparations Can Do That

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

OPINION

On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Joe Biden announced a plan to support Black homeownership and Black-owned businesses, which he said was aimed at closing the racial wealth gap between Black people and white people. The plan received praise from those who celebrated Biden’s apparent attempt to address the gap, which his administration has identified as a key policy goal.

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

These are all great steps worth taking, but we shouldn’t pretend like they will do anything to meaningfully narrow the racial wealth gap. Only reparations can do that.

According to a recent New York Times piece by Duke University economist William Darity, the wealth gap between Black and white Americans ranges from somewhere between nearly $54,700 a person and $280,300 a person. 

Using the larger estimate, which Darity argues is more appropriate, the total racial wealth gap amounts to $11.2 trillion–“a figure that implies that incremental measures will not be sufficient” to close it, he wrote. 

Another 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development suggests that white households are worth nearly 20 times more than Black households on average, and that it would take 228 years for Black folks to catch up. That’s assuming white people’s collective wealth doesn’t increase at all during that time. 

And that was before our households and businesses took the devastating economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing discrimination in homeownership and supporting Black entrepreneurship are worthwhile policy endeavors. But we should be honest about what they represent in the grand scheme of things: At best, they are marginal steps in the right direction. And that’s not going to cut it. If we are serious about addressing the racial wealth gap, then we must get serious about reparations. There’s no way around it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If our elected officials aren’t prepared to go that route, fine — but we should stop letting them pretend like they are serious about the racial wealth gap. A gap created out of centuries of stolen labor, stolen land, and stolen wealth and resources can’t be addressed by a new housing policy or small business grant program.

During the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden said he supported H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a congressional study on reparations to determine what that could actually look like. The House passed the bill last year. Biden should push the Senate to pass it, too–and then sign it. 

And even that would only be the beginning.

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Featured

Karine Jean-Pierre Makes History as First Openly Gay Person to Lead White House Press Briefing

Jean-Pierre got her start in politics as an activist, and later as a political commentator for MSNBC. She was chief public affairs officer at MoveOn.org — a website that allows people to circulate petitions for progressive causes online — and worked on the Reproductive Freedom Initiative campaign at the ACLU

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Karine Jean-Pierre/ Wikimedia Commons

Karine Jean-Pierre, who serves as White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary for the Biden administration, made history in late May, just ahead of Pride month, as the first openly gay person to lead the daily White House press briefing. Pierre, 43, was also the first Black woman to lead the briefing in 30 years. 

Jean-Pierre got her start in politics as an activist, and later as a political commentator for MSNBC. She was chief public affairs officer at MoveOn.org — a website that allows people to circulate petitions for progressive causes online — and worked on the Reproductive Freedom Initiative campaign at the ACLU. Jean-Pierre later served on presidential campaigns for former President Barack Obama and 2016 Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley. She was also senior adviser for the Biden campaign and chief of staff for Kamala Harris. Jean-Pierre was born in Martinique to Haitian parents but grew up in Queens, N.Y.

“It’s a real honor to be standing here today. I appreciate the historic nature. I really do. But I believe that…being behind this podium, being in this room, being in this building is not about one person. It’s about what we do on behalf of the American people,” said Jean-Pierre.

The first Black woman White House spokesperson was Judy Smith, who served under President George H.W. Bush, beginning in 1991. Jean-Pierre is a part of Biden’s all-female White House senior communications team of seven women — many of them women of color.

Jean-Pierre has held several press gaggles — or informal briefings on Air Force One for journalists traveling with the president. She often represents the Biden administration on cable news shows. Her briefing came as Jennifer Psaki, Biden’s current press secretary, has said that she plans to step down from her position next year. Jean-Pierre is seen as a potential replacement.

“This is not about me. This is not about any of us. And anytime I’m behind here, and I think you’ve progressive

progressive causesheard Jen say this as well — we are going to be truthful. We are going to be transparent as well,” Jean-Pierre said.

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Commentary

Will Alameda’s Rob Bonta Save Assault Weapons Ban and Make His Mark?

Instead of strengthening or fixing the law, federal judge Roger Benitez, a Bush appointee based in Southern California, just declared it unconstitutional on June 4.

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What Is Picture Perfect/ Unsplash

When was the last time you heard about an assault weapon wreaking havoc in California? How about two weeks ago in San Jose when nine innocent lives were lost when they were shot and killed by a disgruntled white male who had a problem with diversity. 

Technically, the weapon used wasn’t an assault rifle, but a 9mm pistol jacked up with a high capacity magazine. Still, it’s illegal in California. The point is, there are laws and there are loopholes. But it’s no reason to get rid of California’s assault weapons ban, the first such law in the nation. 

Instead of strengthening or fixing the law, federal judge Roger Benitez, a Bush appointee based in Southern California, just declared it unconstitutional on June 4.

And now, the ban that Asian Americans as victims brought 32 years ago in California will need the new Asian American Filipino attorney general to show his true mettle to make sure he reverses the judge and stays the law.

Bet you didn’t know there even was such a ban in California? Yep, and in states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, and Massachusetts, as well as Wash., D.C.

There was even a ban in place for a brief time nationwide.

The pro-gun logic of the judge essentially was that since people in other states could get assault weapons and the ban hasn’t stopped mass shootings, what good was the law? “A 30-year-old failed experiment,” said Benitez, who called the AR-15 assault weapons “fairly ordinary, popular modern rifles.” For example, the law allowed those who owned assault weapons before the ban to register their guns. To date, there are 185,569 assault weapons in the state even with a ban.

But popularity doesn’t make them benign.

Benitez even compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife as “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”

That’s such a strange comparison.

I have a small Swiss Army knife that comes with a toothpick and tweezers. I’ve never seen an AR-15 come with either. Does that make the SA knife the superior tool?

Of course, you’re not really looking to pick the spinach off anyone’s teeth, nor pluck a splinter from a finger, with an AR-15. It’s a weapon with one purpose— to kill. And keep killing. Fast.

Not just one, but many. E pluribus Mass Shootings.

That makes the comparison to a Swiss Army anything absurd. But the judge piled it on. He added that knives kill seven times more people in California than rifles do. Maybe. But around the nation, assault rifles are the death-per-minute king.

The AR-15 was used at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016, when 49 people were killed. In Las Vegas, an AR-15 was used to kill 58 people at an outdoor concert in 2017.

Imagine the killings in California if the state ban wasn’t in place. That’s an unknowable statistic. But the most important one. 

Without the ban, is there any doubt deaths by assault rifles would rise? More assault rifles. More incidents. More deaths per minute. 

Asian Victims Brought on Ban

The reason we have the law in the first place was because of a school shooting in 1989 in Stockton when Patrick Purdy killed five children of Southeast Asian refugees and wounded 30 others.

Purdy, a 25-year-old unemployed welder was reported to have said he hated Vietnamese immigrants, whom he believed were stealing jobs from native-born Americans. He was also fond of carrying a book from the white supremacy group, Aryan Nations.

That was his book of choice. But his gun of choice was an assault-style weapon, not the AR-15, but a Chinese-made AK-47. On Jan. 17, 1989, Purdy went to the Cleveland School and fired 106 rounds in three minutes, before taking a pistol and shooting himself in the head.

Because of that crime, the state passed the nation’s first assault weapons ban, signed by a Republican governor, George Deukmejian. What a different time. It seems like such a normal reaction. Nowadays, the deaths at Sandy Hook or Parkland  schools aren’t enough to get any law passed, and we fight over gadgets that make regular guns emulate semi-automatic weapons. 

Bonta to the Rescue?

Enter Rob Bonta, Oakland’s former state Assemblyman, a little more than a month into his new job as state Attorney General. He’s called the decision “fundamentally flawed” and now has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. From there, whatever the decision, the case will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutional right to have assault weapons.

I imagine the six conservative justices are dying to inject some steroids into the Second Amendment.

But this could also be the case where Bonta, the pride of the Filipino American community, gets to showcase his mettle on a national scale. After just being appointed, he’s already thrust into campaign mode and has at least one strong victims’ rights candidate, vying for his job.

This could be a big-time moment for him and for us. Let’s hope he’s up for the polarizing fight against a gun lobby that twists the 2nd Amendment and forces us to live with unwanted and excessive violence.

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