By: Tonya Jackson
This past weekend the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida (DBCF), led by Henry Crespo, Sr., held its 34th annual conference in Orlando. With the theme, “Speak to Our Issues,” attendees were reminded of the vital role they play in making sure the message of the Caucus and our community gets out. The Power Breakfast keynote speaker and moderator for the Black Publisher’s Panel was Denise Rolark-Barnes, chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). Tommy Ford, actor, the 90s sitcom “Martin” and “Harlem Nights”, was the keynote speaker at the Morris Milton Founder’s Luncheon. The Honorable Ras Baraka, Mayor of Newark, New Jersey and Leader of America’s New Urban Agenda, keynote speaker at the “Speak to Our Issues” Gala.
Established in 1983, the DBCF formed to unite and increase the political power of Black Democrats who were unnoticed and underserved in the state. Currently, there are more than 18 DBCF chapters. They represent over 1.2 million Black voters registered as Democrats in Florida.
Denise Rolark-Barnes, chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), was the keynote speaker at the Power Breakfast and moderator for the Black Publisher’s Panel. During her breakfast message, Rolark-Barnes shared, “NNPA represents 206 African-American owned newspapers across the country. We reach a readership of about 20 million print readers and social media readers.” Those numbers are significant, but according to Rolark-Barnes, that’s only part of the story, “newspapers of the Black Press get circulated at up to nine times.” Numbers like this are unheard of in “mainstream media” and also a reminder of the reach of the Black Press.
Rolark-Barnes addressed the constant question of the need the Black Press, “Who else is going to articulate, well first of all, who is going to listen to what our issues are? Secondly, who believes in us enough to make sure that our issues are so important that they need to be recorded and publicized and presented to a greater market? To have people who can debate our issues and to know that we have a position on the issues that affect us. No one documents our community like the Black Press does.”
When the panel assembled, the participants included: Benjamin Cain, Brevard Ebony News; Jacqueline Miles, Pensacola Voice; Bobby Henry, Westside Gazette; Jim Madison, Florida Sun Publisher; Kevin Seraaj, Orlando Advocate; Rodger Caldwell, On Point Media; and Richard Black, Onyx magazine.
Addressing the issue of the role of the Black Press in politics Bobby Henry shared, “Being involved in a statewide association, Florida Association of Black Owned Media, Florida Association of Black Owned Media, that’s 12 different black-owned newspapers placed strategically across the state of Florida. Now what we have learned, is that when we deal with politicians, we first try to find a central location, and we meet with them, and it happens to be here in Orlando. All of us come together and meet with the politicians. Our strategy is to meet before the meeting and have one agenda and one price for the statewide elections. We come together collectively with one voice.”
When dealing with local politicians, Miles recounted, “we sell them an ad, and we give them a personal interview that lets them give their strategy or their platform. When it comes to the state, we have one rate. We’re very unified in that.
Rolark-Barnes, “I know when the primaries took place we had all of the folks on CNN and other channels talking about the state of Florida. It was my hope that we would have had one or two of our publishers on these shows talking from the ground level on what’s happening in this state.” She added, “Tell me, especially you Bobby, what happened in this primary? How did you all cover it?”
Henry responded, “The only way we could cover this (the primaries) was through editorials and not hard news. This season has been one of the most lackadaisical primary sessions that I’ve seen as it pertains to the Democrat Party, it has been a circus when it pertains to the Republican Party. So we find ourselves playing second fiddle. The daily news people are having a fun time with this because they are doing it daily. When we come back as a weekly, we can only recap or find an editorial point to harp on.”
“We regularly publish both from a Democratic point of view as well as what the Republicans are thinking” replied Madison.
Resolutions to the issues discussed during the conference are not easily found. The DBCF and the Black Press continue to work together to make sure our issues of concern are addressed to the proper channels so that the positive change we all seek can become reality. Vote and continue to support the Black Press so your voice can be heard.