by Anitra D. Brown
The publishers and staff of The New Orleans Tribune have celebrated the anniversary of the monthly news magazine every five years since its inception without fail—except once. Though preparation for the 20th anniversary of The New Orleans Tribune began in late 2004, with big plans to commemorate 20 years in grand style the following year, those designs were washed out by Hurricane Katrina.
By February of 2006, the first post-Katrina issue of The Tribune hit streets in New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Shreveport—anywhere storm-strewn New Orleanians could be found. And with that first post-storm issue, The Tribune vowed then as it did in 1990, 1995, and in 2000, to remain in the fight.
In 2010, the paper celebrated 25 years. Now five years later, The Tribune enthusiastically celebrates another milestone—its 30th year anniversary—with this commemorative issue and a gala set for Dec. 4 at the George and Leah McKenna Museum of African-American Art, where several New Orleanians will also be feted as our Dare to Dream honorees.
Over the last 30 years, New Orleans has changed and grown. And The New Orleans Tribune has been witness to it all—from the development of the riverfront to the closure of Charity Hospital, from the growth of the city’s Black middle class to its near decimation as a result of natural disaster and man-made trappings designed to make it difficult for some to return after the storm, from the closure and “redevelopment” of public housing into mixed-income communities to the current affordable housing crisis that many working class New Orleans now face. We have witnessed it all, and have written about it, too.
When The Tribune published its first issue in November 1985, it was a significant time for Black New Orleans. It was near the end of Ernest “Dutch” Morial’s second term in office. More Black men and women were working in City Hall than ever before—an effort to usher young Black professionals into roles of leadership and power that started under former mayor Moon Landrieu and intensified under Morial. Black New Orleans was also experiencing more economic growth. Increased political power and increased economic affluence helped the city’s Black middle class flourish. Given the landscape, the publishers of The Tribune Dr. Dwight and Beverly S. McKenna and a young energetic Kermit Thomas along with founding editor James Borders believed there was room for a news magazine that spoke to, for and about the issues important to Black New Orleans, especially as it experienced changes and growth. It would chronicle progress and draw attention to disparity. There was a dire need for another voice to counter the imagery and messages of mainstream media that often painted Black people in New Orleans negatively, at best, or at worst, waged an all-out attack on Black leadership. And The New Orleans Tribune dared to be that voice.
The first issue of Tribune included a candid look at what it describe as a growing “labor crisis” in the city, the role of labor unions and the impact of it all on workers, especially Black workers. The issue also lauded the opening of new Black businesses, such as the expansion of the late Austin Leslie’s restaurant and the first anniversary of Burns Enterprises.
Other issues to follow in that first year highlighted Black women in business; drew attention to the struggles of the city’s Black firefighters; and underscored the fiscal crisis facing the state’s health department. One issue openly questioned whether African-Americans would benefit from the development of the Riverfront, which was taking place in the mid-1980s. Another issue featured young Black movers and shakers under the age of 35, dubbing them people to watch and included 32-year-old Joseph Recasner, then the president of the Black Association of Firefighters, 29-year-old attorney Roy Rodney, a 32-year-old Black pollster named Silas Lee and young Marc Morial who was emerging from his father’s shadow to establish his own practice.
To be sure, The Tribune has hardly missed an opportunity in 30 years to highlight new and established Black-owned businesses, young African-American entrepreneurs, artists, activists and leaders from all walks, while also speaking truth in the matters that impact the lives of Black people, not only in the Crescent City, but across the nation.
CONCENTRATED FOCUS, CONSISTENT VOICE
Over the last 30 years, The Tribune’s voice has remained clear and consistent with a keen focus on the issues that we believe greatly impact the lives of Black New Orleans. Whether it has been a constant clarion call urging Black economic empowerment through the support of Black-owned businesses and conscious consumerism, our fanatical focus on the plight of the Black male or our passion for equity and excellence in public education, The New Orleans Tribune has never shied away from controversial topics or placed limits on what the issues it tackled and how.
If The New Orleans Tribune has had one singular, continuous theme throughout its 30-year history, it would be the call to save ourselves through economic empowerment and creating and supporting our own businesses and institutions, while also calling for equity and inclusion in the economic development opportunities throughout the city.
From an early interview with Tony Brown, focusing on his Buy Freedom movement to the myriad of features throughout the years that highlighted local Black-owned businesses, economic enfranchisement has been a central theme for The Tribune In fact, in 1995, for its 10th year anniversary, McKenna Publishing and The New Orleans Tribune first introduced its Dare to Dream awards, which then honored ten young Black business owners, including Ronnie Burns (Quick Courier now QCS Logistics), Eric Wright (Rodent Guard), David St. Etienne (Ultimate Marketing, now UTSI), Glenda McKinley (G. Mc&Co.), Loretta Harrison (Loretta’s Authentic Pralines) and Michelle Gobert (Signs Now).
“Twenty years ago, these were all young entrepreneurs who had taken those inspiring steps to start businesses and improve their communities, says Beverly McKenna. “We honored them in 1995. Here we are in 2015; and like us, they are still here. Not only have they survived, they have flourished. And we would like to believe that The Tribune’s focus on Black economic empowerment and business development has been a part of that.”
More recently, McKenna Publishing was joined by WBOK 1230 Am radio and Liberty Bank & Trust Co. to promote the Missing Piece campaign—a two-fold effort designed to urge Black consumers to patronize Black-owned businesses that in turn support and strengthen the community by providing jobs, mentorship opportunities and other resources. The campaign continues to grow followers.
Since it earliest days, The Tribune, led by a very vocal executive publisher Dr. Dwight McKenna, has also paid particular attention to the dilemma young Black males face in our society and has used the pages of the paper to draw more awareness to the issue. That emphasis has only intensified in recent years as the lives of young Black men have come under attack both here in New Orleans and across the country as exemplified by the killings of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Florida, and Wendell Allen and Justin Sipp here at home. Their senseless loss combined with poor educational and economic opportunities forces The Tribune to continue to hone in on challenges Black men and boys face.
Additionally, and especially as so-called reform efforts have all but dismantled public education in New Orleans, The New Orleans Tribune continues to examine the progress and pitfalls of public education in New Orleans. To be sure, our attention to this important subject only seems to have been turned up a notch since Katrina with the hijacking of public schools and proliferation of charter organizations as corporate-driven reform movement continues its hold. But it did not begin there. The New Orleans Tribune has chronicled, covered and commented on the state of public education in New Orleans since it early days while keeping its readers informed at every possible turn with interviews with superintendents and board members and commentary and analysis of happening in public education.
The monthly news magazine has also made it its business to laud and celebrate people in the community whose accomplishments, achievements and contributions are often ignored in the mainstream. With regular columns and sections like People on The Move, Our Town and Foto Gallery and through cover and feature stories, the magazine takes great pleasure in highlighting the people who might otherwise not be recognized.
These themes are just a few, and certainly do not reflect all of the important matters The Tribune has included in its 30 years. Others that have been a significant part of the paper’s coverage are public housing and neighborhoods, issues of racism and race relations, healthcare, politics and Black elected leadership, articles that highlight the history of Black New Orleans, higher education and historically Black colleges, crime and violence in the community, and so much more.
STILL IN THE FIGHT
Like many New Orleanians, The New Orleans Tribune measures its existence in two ways—pre-Katrina and post-Katrina.
After Katrina, The Tribune’s staff, including its publishers, editor, art director, office manager, advertising representatives and freelance writers were a part of the city’s Diaspora—living in Atlanta, Houston, Baton Rouge, Nashville, Shreveport and many other locations throughout the country.
In February of 2006, The Tribune published its first post-Katrina issue and found distribution points for it in all of the major cities where New Orleanians had taken refuge. In fact, staff members who had come into town for quick visits were all too happy to load their trunks or back seats with issues of The Tribune to share with their fellow New Orleanians across the country.
In addition to a candid interview with then mayor Ray Nagin that first issue included several calls to arms—urging New Orleanians to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming election if at all possible.
Again, in its second post-Katrina issue, The Tribune gave voice to the voiceless as the first post-Katrina election drew closer. It called on its readers to examine the city and their personal conditions and then to turn whatever anger and concern they harbored into zeal to vote in the upcoming elections at any cost. There were also stories of resilience, about families returning, rebuilding and rebounding in Katrina’s aftermath.
In the next issue, The Tribune celebrated the tens of thousands of mostly Black New Orleans who cast votes by absentee ballot or boarded buses from all points to return to New Orleans to vote.
In some of its most recent issues, The Tribune has boldly taken stands that its publishers and staff believe are right and righteous, even when they have not been the most popular, from our recommendation to vote no on a proposition to extend a school millage and provide funds to unelected charter school boards to our position on the recent movement to tear down confederate monuments and symbols to our insightful Q&A with Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson—an article we believed help to thrust the challenges and triumphs of the office to the forefront, garnering the community support and outcry for IPM Huston that ultimately pushed forward the efforts to have her office separated from the Office of the Inspector General.
The newspaper has not missed a beat since that first post-Katrina publication nearly 10 years ago. In fact, other than the six months immediately following Hurricane Katrina, it has not missed a beat in 30 years.
Today, The Tribune continues to highlight the issues, people, places and things that are especially important to the lives of Black New Orleanians and African Americans everywhere. It is the right paper, at the right time; and The New Orleans Tribune is still in the fight.