Legacy award recipient and history maker U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel

*The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) was founded in 1940 when John H. Sengstacke of the Chicago Defender organized a meeting with other African American publishers designed for “harmonizing our energies in a common purpose for the benefit of Negro journalists.”  The group decided to form the National Negro Publishers Association.

In 1956, the trade association was renamed the National Newspapers Publishers Association.  Since World War II, it has also served as the industry’s news service, a position that it has held without peer or competitor since the Associated Negro Press dissolved in 1970.

Honoree U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, Danny J. Bakewell, Honoree Berry Gordy, Walter Smith, Terry Jones

Today the NNPA is composed of more than 200 Black newspapers in the United States and the Virgin Islands with a combined readership of 15 million and the organization has created an electronic news service, BlackPressUSA.com web site, which enables newspapers to provide real time news and information to its national constituency.

America’s Black press returned to the historic roots of its founding – New York City — where the NNPA held its 70th annual convention June 16-19, 2010 at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers that was attended by scores of member publishers, civil rights leaders, community leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Themed ”Power to Influence Black America,” the four day convention, which addressed major issues vital to Black America and the Black Press, was attended by high profile national leaders including Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., founder, Rainbow PUSH; Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP; Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund; Dr. Charles J. Ogletree, Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, Harvard University; Kathy Times, president, National Association of Black Journalists; Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and talk show host; and Dr. Bernice King, president-elect, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

Thomas Watkins, Hon. David N. Dinkins, Honoree Berry Gordy, Danny J. Bakewell, NYC Comptroller John C. Liu, Karl Rodney

The celebratory convention kicked off with the Chairman’s reception on Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at Macy’s Herald Square hosted by Macy’s senior vice president, external affairs, Edward Jay Goldberg, and presented by the Northeast Publishers Association.

The Hon. David N. Dinkins and New York City Comptroller John Liu were among the politicians and distinguished guests in attendance at the gala.  “This is a must-go event,” said Liu.  “We have a group of prestigious and well-known African-American newspaper publishers from all across the country gathering right here in New York City.”

“I think it’s tremendously important that this association has come together as a group… We can go all the way back to 1909 when the NAACP came along and there came a time when people said do we need a Black organization, and they raised it about tenant organizations and golf organizations and now publishers.  Until we get a level playing field, we still need it,” offered Dinkins.

Mistress of Ceremonies Michelle Miller, Hon. Charles Rangel, Danny J. Bakewell

The four-day summer convention culminated in the first annual Legacy of Excellence awards dinner and awards presentation in which NNPA Chairman Danny J. Bakewell presented esteemed Legacy awards to U.S. Congressman Charles B. Rangel and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy.  The impressive sculptured awards were cleverly created in the form of an eagle holding a newspaper at its feet and a pen in the beak.

“I’m here tonight to make sure that all of you know that you are a part of Motown’s great family,” said an emotional Gordy.  “You, the Black Press, have no idea how much your love and support meant to me and all of us at Motown.  At a time when we needed it most, you were there… and I never had a chance to say this before… I know you’re here to honor me and I appreciate that. But, tonight I’m here to honor you…,” Gordy concluded.

R&B crooner Eddie Levert & his band

Eddie Levert builds up a sweet performing a litany of his legendary songs

Organizers called Rangel one of the “pioneering, most effective and productive African American legislative leaders in recent decades.”  Rangel thanked the organization for its tribute and for being on the frontlines of justice especially when no one else would take up the mantle of defending the rights of African Americans.

“The Black press has given voice to the otherwise voiceless and made visible the otherwise invisible since the founding of the first Black newspaper in New York City 283 years ago,” said Rangel.  “Today, the NNPA continues to play a major role in fighting on behalf of the African American community — under the skillful and dynamic leadership of Los Angeles Sentinel publisher Danny Bakewell. “

Rangel credited the Black press with nurturing the careers of thousands of professionals in and around the journalism industry who were not afforded opportunities at mainstream publications.  He also credited their advocacy with paving the road of success for African American legislative leaders like himself, at every level of government.

“Without those journals, without those pioneering and courageous editors, there would be no Congressional Black Caucus, no Deval Patrick in the State House, and no Barack Obama in the White House,” said the 20-term Congressman from Upper Manhattan. “Certainly, there might not have been a Charlie Rangel.”

Rangel lamented how despite the achievements of African Americans in mainstream society, recent economic and industry developments had left many Black newspapers across the nation struggling to survive.  He encouraged the larger community to get involved supporting these courageous publications.

“Why is it that we have to struggle so hard to get our fair share of ad revenues from the very governments we elect, the political parties we support, and the industries that our people invest in so well,” said Rangel.  “We need to remind everyone — with our words and our wallets — that this country cannot continue to improve and make good on the promise of our democracy without a strong and vibrant Black press.”

Audrey J. Bernard

”Both men represent excellence in achievement that is unmatched.  They come during a time when they set and achieved goals that prior to them people never would have believed could be accomplished by Black people.  They were on the threshold of excellence much like the Black press was on the threshold of excellence,” stated Bakewell.

“We think that they are befitting to be recognized as representatives of the levels of achievement that occurs in our community all the time by people who refuse to accept barriers as an excuse and accept other people’s opinions about what we can do and can’t do,” Bakewell concluded.

CBS-TV’s Michelle Miller served as Mistress of Ceremonies and Eddie Levert, lead singer of the mighty O’Jays, soared as the evening’s entertainment.  Levert had the old-schoolers dancing like there was no tomorrow to his legendary sounds – “Backstabbers,” “Livin’ for the Weekend,” “For the Love of Money,” and “Love Train.”  Kudos to AT&T and Cadillac who partnered with the NNPA to help make the convention a very successful endeavor. (Photos by Ronnie Wright)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.