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Former NNPA Chairs Talk Yesterday, Today and the Future

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Whether it’s taking a stand for the Double V campaign during World War II; marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement; or fighting to have a voice in the White House in more recent times, NNPA’s board chairpersons’ responsibilities have historically gone far beyond any standard business definitions.



Former Chairpersons of the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s Board of Directors (left to right): “Sonny” Messiah Jiles, the CEO of the Houston Defender Media Group; Danny Bakewell, Sr., publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel; Cloves Campbell, publisher of the Arizona Informant; and Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer.

Part One in a series, as the NNPA prepares to Celebrate 80Years as the Voice of Black America

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent

The role of chairman of the board in any organization comes with responsibilities that require for the broadest of shoulders.

According to a definition found at bizfluent, a board’s chairperson is the person who serves as the senior representative of the shareholders and is responsible for upholding their interests.

However, whether it was taking a stand for the Double V campaign during World War II; marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement; or fighting to have a voice in the White House in more recent times, NNPA’s board chairpersons’ responsibilities have historically gone far beyond any standard business definitions.

“As NNPA chair, it is important to have integrity, build consensus, listen to different points of view, be a communicator, take the initiative, and possess the foresight to think where the puck will be –not where it is now — and act accordingly,” said Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah Jiles, the CEO of the Houston Defender Media Group and a former NNPA chair.

“The experience of being a NNPA chair was both rewarding and trying because I took office when the organization was transitioning from a combined operation into two independent organizations, [the National Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation]” Jiles said.

Jiles, who was elected chair in mid-2003 and served through mid-2005, said the high points of her tenure included securing the first $4.1 million buy from Home Depot for NNPA members; cleaning up and aligning the organization’s operational systems in accordance with Sarbanes Oxley; and establishing convention sponsorship packages covering two-three year periods, that ensured revenue continuity.

“The biggest challenge of the NNPA chair is to generate revenue for both small- and large-market newspapers, create products and services that benefit the membership’s bottom line and building a consensus when there are so many personal or hidden agendas,” Jiles said.

Danny Bakewell, Sr., the publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel who chaired the NNPA from 2009 to 2011, said it was an honor to serve his fellow publishers and lead the organization through various changes in the media landscape.

“My publishers knew of my activism and [at the time I was elected], it was a good time in my life, and I decided to give it I shot,” Bakewell said.

“When I came in, there was basically no infrastructure, so I’ve got to be chairman and CEO and I’ve got to make decisions to make this thing work,” he said.

Bakewell said he created a plan on how to create partnerships in which the goal was to get five partners that would agree to three- or five-year commitments that would bring in significant revenue for the NNPA.

“It meant that we weren’t begging because we knew we had money coming in and I established a policy that we’d go out and raise money for every event knowing that we already had money,” Bakewell said.

“The real glue that made my administration successful was getting full-page ads at least once a quarter for my publishers and organizations like General Motors really gave us solid commitments and we still have them today,” he said.

As chair, Bakewell said one should never lose sight of the mission of the Black Press of America, which is to speak for the voiceless and champion the powerless.

“We put together a report when I was the chair that showed we were talking to 19.5 million black people every week, that’s powerful,” Bakewell said.

He said there were many who wanted him to remain as chair, but he leaned on an important motto learned long ago: “Good leadership knows when to come, it knows what to do and it knows when to go,” said Bakewell, who in 2010 enjoyed a historic visit to the White House where he met with then-presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett to make sure – among other things – that the NNPA was in a position to cover President Barack Obama’s administration.

Following Bakewell, Arizona Informant publisher Cloves Campbell won election as NNPA chair.

Campbell, who led the organization with a strategy that included collaborating with other organizations, forming new partnerships and inviting a new generation of readers into the Black Press, served two terms concluding in 2015.

“It was an honor to serve the NNPA, which has such a rich history and it represents an important part of black history,” Campbell said.

When Campbell began, he said the NNPA had virtually no digital presence, but he’s noticed most recently the evolution of the NNPA Newswire and where hundreds of thousands of unique visitors come for information daily.

“Now it’s at a level where the world knows about it,” Campbell said.

As chair, Campbell said an important aspect of his duties were to work closely with the then newly-hired NNPA president and CEO, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

“It’s important because the president is the spokesperson for your organization. I remember our first president, Bill Thompson, was a different type of person, but we were real fortunate to be able to select an excellent leader in Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. Dr. Chavis, with a civil rights background, has what we were looking for in that premiere position,” Campbell said.

“Chavis is one who commands an audience and not only commands the respect from the community in the United States, but worldwide,” he said.

Washington Informer publisher, Denise Rolark Barnes, who served as NNPA chair from 2015 to 2017, echoed Campbell’s comments on the importance of the chair and president working in harmony for the good of the organization.

“As your board, we are a legal entity, and to me, we should have a chairman of the board who shares the same vision as the leader of the organization and the person that we’ve hired to lead and to be the spokesperson for the organization,” Rolark Barnes said.

“As long as you are in lockstep, there’s so much more you can accomplish for the organization,” she said.

Rolark Barnes recalled a time when the NNPA didn’t have the resources to operate in the manner it currently does, but she said the organization always had an executive director or a president – a set-up that’s required under law for any nonprofit.

“When you have someone in that position with the title of president who’s respected, who has an ability to connect with organizations, that’s important because we on the board cannot do that… we have to maintain our legal status,” Rolark Barnes said.

During her tenure, Rolark Barnes said she understood that there would be times when the board would dictate what the chair would do, but it’s the president who leads based on what the board has instructed.

“Members have to have leadership that works hard on their behalf and works together. You have to listen to your membership and strive to work together because that’s what makes for a stronger organization,” she said.

Two years after her tenure, Rolark Barnes remains very much involved on the board.

She said she decided to run for chair after attending board meetings, taking copious notes and realizing that she could help the organization.

“It became crystal clear to me what I could do to lead the organization beyond stagnation into a new era of solvency, productivity, and resiliency,” Rolark Barnes said.

“I was incredibly proud to serve alongside a progressive-thinking executive committee and a board that supported, and sometimes challenged, our decisions,” she said.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 



Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.



Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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