to the presidents of Southern University and Grambling State University and a gentle reminder to all of our HBCU Presidents
Dear President Ronald Mason Jr.
and President Frank G. Pogue:
It is with a sense of frustration that I write the both of you today. For several years in a row now, The New Orleans Tribune and other leading Black-owned media in the city have met with quibble about, cutback in and cutout of advertising from the White-owned agency that handles media placement for the annual Bayou Classic.
In the first place, it is inconceivable to us and others that a Black-owned firm does not hold the contract for one of the largest African-American events coming to the city. In this day, when Black-owned enterprises continue to be excluded from participation in business opportunities in both the public and private sectors, that two premier Black institutions like Southern and Grambling Universities would overlook qualified, competent Black media/advertising firms for this lucrative contract is mind boggling. We need look no further than the recent awarding of the World Trade Center development contract and the Orleans Parish School Board search firm contract for ready examples of how African-American businesses are disregarded and disrespected in this city in spite of hollow chatter and meaningless policies to the contrary.
It is shameful that The New Orleans Tribune has in recent years been placed in the demeaning position of haggling and negotiating for a one-quarter page ad (a paltry size considering the magnitude of Bayou Classic).
How can you overlook this very important opportunity to the uplift of our community by making certain that advertising dollars associated with this profitable event are spent generously with Black-owned media as opposed to the stingily-spread proposals offered up by a firm that obviously has no respect for the critical function that Black-owned media continues to play in our communities?
Without doubt, the role of the Black press—its purpose and responsibility to the Black community as an outspoken advocate and fighter for social justice in the face of seemingly impossible odds—is as strong today as it has ever been. In fact, it was not that long ago when the very existence of Southern University at New Orleans was threatened that The Louisiana Weekly stepped out with numerous editorials on the subject that highlighted the way statistics and data were manipulated to paint an untrue picture of SUNO. Meanwhile, The New Orleans Tribune literally stopped the presses to give front page coverage to the issue.
To be sure, as Black-owned media, we see it as our responsibility to share news and information with our readers from a perspective that they will not find elsewhere. It is our mantra. We will tell our truth, share our story when no one else will…because no one else will. Yet, as we support and fight for our community, it is vital for others to understand that our very existence depends, in part, on the willingness and ability of institutions and enterprises that are a part of the Black community, to do the same for us.
Other publishers of Black-owned media in the New Orleans area have joined McKenna Publishing in these concerns and are reminding you as leaders of the Southern University System and Grambling State University to seriously and soberly examine the decisions and practices that have brought us to this place where White-owned agencies exercise selfish, tight-fisted control of advertising dollars intended to promote a Black event that has grown exponentially because of the support of African-American patrons over its 40- year existence.
As you know, the Bayou Classic is a sizeable source of tourism revenue for both the state and the city of New Orleans, attracting hundreds of thousands of people and creating an economic impact of about $30 million annually in recent years.
It seems to us that the audiences commanded by The New Orleans Tribune, Data News Weekly and The Louisiana Weekly would be the first to be considered for marketing and advertising for this particular event. Our targeted readers are the very people who attend the Classic.
That we should be forced to grovel for a small ad for this event in spite of the very attractive demographics of our readerships is distressing, disturbing and offensive.
Ironically, as this letter is being drafted, McKenna Publishing, in partnership with other Black-owned media outlets, is kicking off a conscious consumerism campaign wherein it is setting out to educate our community about the importance of supporting and spending money with African-American owned businesses. Kindly note, we are not advocating for women – or “minority-owned,” but specifically for Black-owned businesses. And we do so unapologetically because we believe it is critical to support Black-owned businesses and to in turn look to those businesses to help support and strengthen our communities.
We believe that we have it within our power to at least begin to address many of the problems that face our people by choosing to spend our money with businesses that support them by providing jobs, underwriting worthy efforts and supporting other Black-owned businesses.
We urge our Black universities and their leaders to join us in this effort. You are in a unique position to really make a difference as we embark on this journey. First, you can have direct impact on the economic vitality of our communities by ensuring that your institutions support Black-owned businesses whenever possible. How can we ask the average Black citizen to buy Black when our leading Black institutions do not select Black-owned construction, architectural or engineering firms to handle the multi-million dollar construction taking place on their campuses?
Secondly, you are in the position to help shape the mind sets of the young eager African-American students regarding the importance of buying Black.
And finally, as leaders of Black institutions of higher learning, you are often called upon to serve on boards and commissions—ostensibly to represent the interests of Black folks. In doing so, do not be afraid to boldly speak out for the economic, social and civic inclusion of African-Americans at every turn.
Gentlemen, We—all of us together—are the Missing Piece.
beverly s. mckenna, Publisher
McKenna Publishing Co.
(The New Orleans Tribune)