By any measure, 30 years is a long stretch. And despite the detours we have met, defeats and disasters we have encountered and the dangers we have stared down along the way, here in November 2015, we can look back with pride at what we have contributed to the media mix in New Orleans over the past three decades. What we know for sure is we couldn’t have done it without the help and hard work of so many, particularly that of a dedicated staff some of whom have been with us for 28 years!
When I pause and reflect on the genesis of our modern day Tribune, my thoughts travel back over a half century to my girlhood home—where the coffee table was ever laden with African-American newspapers from around the country—current editions of the Chicago Defender, The Indianapolis Recorder, The Pittsburgh Courier, Muhammad Speaks (the precursor to the Nation of Islam’s Final Call) and other Black-owned periodicals of the day like Ebony and Jet magazines. It was in the pages of these periodicals that my sisters and I, under our parents’ wise and gentle guidance, were introduced to, educated about and informed of the current events that were affecting us and the African Americans who were impacting “our” community nationwide—the good, the bad… the triumphs and the tragedies—we were steeped in it all. We were taught early on of the importance of a strong, Black-owned press. We learned back then through the pages of these publications that Black lives indeed matter.
As a girl, I was an avid reader and writer. Forever, I aspired to a career in journalism. While other kids were dressing up and playing at being nurses or teachers, I pushed those make believe glasses to the top of my head and positioned a blue pencil in my hand, pretending to be a reporter or editor. I cut my teeth and got early training serving as editor of my high school newspaper. Fast forward to my freshman year in college where I declared a major in journalism despite my parent’s admonitions that I would never find a job in the field…it was like that for Black people back in the day. I guess I thought I was different; but reality soon set in when I returned home from my freshman year at Indiana University and was turned down for an internship at our daily newspaper by a “kindly” White woman who informed me that the Journal had never hired a “colored” person before. Admittedly devastated, I returned to school in the fall and changed my major to English education. But throughout my early career moves, I turned again and again to jobs in public information and communications.
After relocating as a young wife and mother, from Washington, DC to New Orleans, I found the daily newspaper here blatantly oppressive and in-your-face unkind to African Americans. A determined Dwight McKenna, who shared my passion and views on the role that media plays in building strong healthy communities, began seeking ways in which we could make a real difference in the field through ownership. He even entered into talks with Scoop Jones about buying his paper. But about the same time, Kermit Thomas and James Borders, two brilliant young men who understood the importance of an unfettered Black-owned press, invited us to join them in the fledgling venture—the New Orleans Tribune. We immediately signed on.
The rest, as they say, is history. Our first edition was printed in November 1985. Determined to flip the script, we set about telling our own truths from our own perspective while providing a means for Black people to communicate with each other. We unabashedly stepped forward to identify our own leaders and heroes without regard to the lies and often twisted views that the White press unceasingly disseminates about our authentic leaders and elected officials. And we didn’t hesitate to defend those maligned from the unwarranted attacks often levied against the stand-up officials who dare to speak in the bests interests of our people, even at their own peril.
While we are proud of what we have done in small measure, we admit our venture has not been a financial success—through no fault of our own. Ours was a quality product from day one. Our paper was graphically pleasing; our writers were excellent; our photographers were talented; and the four editors who joined our staff over the course of 30 years—James Borders, Warren Bell, CC Campbell Rock and our current editor Anitra D. Brown have been the best, barring none!
Advertising is the life blood of any media, and despite the fact that African Americans have been the majority population in this city for the past 30 years and despite the fact that not a business in this city could have survived without Black dollars, most White-owned businesses have consistently refused to advertise with us (or any of the other Black-owned media as far as that goes. Just talk to Renette Dejoie at the Louisiana Weekly, or Terry Jones at Data or the Bakewells at WBOK.)
In a perverse way, the refusal of advertisers to spend money with us has provided us with freedom on our editorial pages, which have never been for sale.
That’s the reason we are so appreciative of those businesses, both Black and White, who have believed in what we were attempting to do, understood the value of reaching our audience, and have supported us with advertising for these many years.
Most of all, we thank our loyal readers. It is your support over the last 30 years that has been the most inspiring and encouraging. We see you at a restaurant, the bank or at the grocery; and you are eager to tell us how much you enjoyed a recent issue. You have taken the time to call, write or e-mail more times than we could dare count to tell us that some commentary or analysis was spot on. “Keep doing what you doing,” you say. Your words of encouragement have fueled our focus, commitment and dedication to empowering our community every day for the last 30 years.
Thank you so much.