NEW YORK (NNPA) — The National Newspaper Publishers Association celebrated its 70th anniversary with its first annual Legacy of Excellence dinner gala at its annual convention held in New York. It seemed most appropriate that the launch of this awards gala would take place at their New York convention with the honoring of two icons, Honorable Charles B. Rangel, a leader in politics and civil rights as a history-making African-American congressman, and Berry Gordy, a pioneer in the creation of the first major Black owned recording company to produce Black music and the phenomenal Motown sound.
The much anticipated gala was the perfect culmination of three days of convention activities that featured informative seminars, productive panel discussions, networking, luncheons and receptions with Gov. David A. Paterson, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., Rev. Al Sharpton, the National Urban League’s CEO Marc Morial, the NAACP’s CEO Benjamin Jealous, the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and president-elect of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and many other prominent leaders in business, politics, religion and civil rights. The convention, titled “Power to Influence Black America,” addressed the major issues vital to Black America and the Black press today.
The Honorable David N. Dinkins and 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. This is also one of my goals, to open up the contracting even as it pertains to media. And making sure that the dollars that flow to media are spread equitably. I’m also an avid reader of African-American papers.”
“I think it’s tremendously important that this association has come together as a group,” Dinkins said. “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.”
Former President Bill Clinton sent greetings and congratulations to the NNPA and its honorees by videotape. He first commended NNPA Chairman Danny Bakewell for his leadership.
“I respect and support your passion for ensuring that the African-American press remains a strong, relevant voice. I applaud you and your colleagues from all over the country for joining hands for such an important cause. Congratulations to my congressman, Charlie Rangel, for the honor you will receive tonight. And thanks again for helping me move to Harlem. Congratulations to a man we all know and whose music we all love, Berry Gordy.
Berry and I have been good friends. I value his wisdom and kindness more than he’ll ever know. They told him to leave the Motown sound now that it’s over 50 years, but it’s as hip as ever. Just like us, Berry,” Clintonsaid.
It could not have been a better time to honor Congressman Rangel with the Legacy of Excellence Award for leadership and he couldn’t have expressed more gratitude.
“I feel so individually proud to receive this award because I receive it on behalf of so many people that made it possible for the Congressional Black Caucus to come into existence,” Rangel said. But he echoed other leaders as he stressed that we can’t go any further without a strong partnership with the Black press. “Because no matter how you look at it, the racism that we’ve suffered over the years is still there. And the President even feels it today …” He also mentioned the attacks on him in Congress. “So we all know setbacks, disappointments, but when you’re right, nobody can turn us around.
“This award is for so many brothers and sisters that had the courage, in little towns where you had White constituents, to speak the truth no matter what it meant. Everyone couldn’t be successful but you knew one thing that you could go against the Washington Post and they could go against you, but at the end of the day it would be the national Black newspaper publishers that would be there with you through thick and thin. And make no mistake about it, we have just begun to fight.”
Bakewell introduced Berry Gordy and presented him with the Legacy of Excellence Award. Gordy, a man of few words, opened his heart and shared with the attendees the profound relationship he had with the Black press, which he said contributed to his success. After thanking the mistress of ceremonies and acknowledging “the great Charlie Rangel,” David N. Dinkins and the members of NNPA, Gordy spoke of his friend and “idol” Danny Bakewell’s accomplishments. “For many years I’ve observed his commitment to the many causes that he champions. I have never seen him lose.
“This is an important night for me for so many reasons,” Gordy said. “I was 11-years-old when I first worked for the Black press.” He drew applause when he added, “I worked for the Michigan Chronicle. I thought of myself as a marketing genius and a distribution executive. My friends saw me as a paper boy. That was cool. Because I actually sold more papers than anybody else.”
Thrilled by his success, Gordy decided to stake out new territory in the White community.
“They loved me and the Michigan Chronicle and I sold out in no time. The next time I took my brother loaded with papers. We were going to clean up. We sold nothing.” It was then that Gordy realized a valuable lesson — “one Black kid was cute but, two was a threat to the neighborhood. It was my first real marketing lesson.” When he later decided to start Motown, he chose to not put Black faces on the albums at first. “I wanted them to hear the music. It worked. The rest is history.
“I’m here tonight to make sure that all of you know that you are a part of Motown’s great family,” he said. His voice was filled with emotion when he closed his remarks with, “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.”
Eddie Levert, lead singer of the O’Jays, was the featured entertainer that got the guests out of their seats, after a sumptuous candlelit dinner, to dance to some of the group’s many hits, including “Love Train, “For the Love of Money” and “Back Stabbers,” to name a few. Dessert was served and the dancing continued at the after party.
Howard Dodson, director of The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, said, “I’m here because without the Black press we wouldn’t be a people in the 21st century. When the rest of the media was disrespecting us if not ignoring us completely, the Black press was giving us a presence and a sense of purpose and being in life. Until America becomes the raceless society that it purports to be in the post-Obama age we will need the Black press. Even if we become a fully egalitarian society, there will always be a need for a Black press and Black institutions to collectively express who and what we are as part of a larger mosaic. But we’re a long way from there.”
When we were in Africa, Black people were dependent on the drum to carry our message. Today, we must still rely on Black newspapers to tell our stories from our perspective. The beautifully adorned sculptured awards presented to the honorees were created in the form of an eagle holding a newspaper at its feet and a pen in its beak. The award reflects the mission and journey that today’s publishers continue to be charged with in the 21st century.
Oh what a night!