The Black Press is celebrating its 190th birthday on March 16, 2017, and some of its readers in Hampton Roads reached out to social media to say, ‘Congrats.’
FYI. ‘Congrats’ means, ‘I wish you well’ on social media. Yep, that’s social media talk. It means ‘You go, girl.’ Or, ‘What’s up dawg?’
While the New Journal and Guide routinely receives encouraging, enthusiastic feedback on various social media platforms, its enthusiastic readers continue to express sentiments that are similar to those that Samuel Cornish and John Brown Russwurm heard after they launched the abolitionist newspaper for people of color in Brooklyn in 1827. In other words, people of color gave shout outs to the founders of the nation’s first Black newspaper, like they give shout outs to today’s Black Press.
For example, this is the shout-out that The Christian Recorder received after it published an editorial in The New York Times that called for the emancipation of people of color on Jan. 4, 1862. “If emancipated they will refuse to work, and will engage in robbery and murder,” the editorial noted.
But readers of color fired back in a shout-out. “Its readers said, “Yes, God has looked down upon this great national sin, and is now frowning upon it, and declares His judgment upon it.
He has heard the groans of His people, and has come down to deliver them.”
This means then and now the Black Press’ impact was strong. For example, Nathan Richardson, a Suffolk poet, writer, and speaker who portrays Frederick Douglass at schools, churches, and non-profits, said, “It’s had a major impact, not only has it expanded my audience but it has also become an evolution of my becoming Frederick Douglass. Basically, everything I’ve been involved in during my life has helped me to become Douglass. You know he published the North Star newspaper.”
Specifically, Richardson pointed to how his poems and other information have been published in the New Journal and Guide through the years. It has increased his audience base through the years.
“The meaning of what it means to be an activist and advocate for the Black cause has been amplified by my contact with the New Journal and Guide,” he said. “They’ve published my poems. They’ve published events I’ve performed at. They have covered youth I work with and support. And the feedback I’ve gotten is encouragement and support. I routinely meet people who tell me they read about me in the Guide.”
Richardson was extremely busy during Black History Months. And he performed at the National Women’s Historical Park in November after the presidential election. He has several upcoming speaking engagements including one in New York in April. “The value that it (the Black Press) adds to my life, is it shows we have a diversity of ideas. And we need to understand that it takes all kinds of opinions to come up with the answers to a complex problem.”
In February, Richardson did 18 performances of Frederick Douglass in Maryland, North Carolina, and Hampton Roads. “I rec’d tremendous feedback because my character is now focusing on the U.S. Constitution. I give every youth who attends a pocket-size version of the U.S. Constitution.
“I have found we are woefully weak in our understanding of the US Constitution. I mean it’s plain and simple we do not know the amendments that guarantee our freedom of speech, the press, freedom of religion, and the right to vote for women. If you don’t know your rights you can’t be as confident as you should be.”
Explaining how Frederick Douglass argued with William Lloyd Garrison because he wanted to tear up the U.S. Constitution, a document leaders were not heeding, Richards said, “But Douglass said we have to make our leaders live up to the words in the constitution.”
In another clear shout-out to the New Journal and Guide, Richardson said, “The Black press dates back to slavery: The newspaper then was what the Internet is now. It was the Black community’s Internet where we could exchange ideas, meet challenges of social and economic injustice, and have a platform and a voice.”
Go to www.thenewjournalandguide.com to view an interview between Nathan Richardson in character as Frederick Douglass and Publisher Brenda H. Andrews.
Another shout-out came from Anthony Stockard, the director of the Norfolk State University Players and the newly formed Division of Drama at Norfolk State University. “The impact has been tremendous,” Stockard said. “It has been hard to get other news outlets to give us the type of attention and recognition that we have received from the New Journal and Guide. It has proven to be quite a challenge to get other outlets to give us the value we are trying to put out there.”
Stockard said he has produced multiple plays and heard many audience members say they came out to see the performance because they read about it in the New Journal and Guide.
“And we have also bought advertising with the New Journal and Guide,” Stockard added. “While we have bought advertising in other newspapers, it seems like the New Journal and Guide is very proud and quite willing to share our good news. In my opinion, they do not just print Black news, but worthy news. Some of our counterparts that have seemingly less, fewer, and far-reaching accomplishments tend to get their stories published in other newspapers, but not ours.”
Another reader who offered a shout-out was Chukwuma “Chuck” Awanna, a Navy veteran who lost his job when ITT Educational Services closed most of its campuses nationwide. including its Norfolk campuses. While Awanna is still looking for a comparable job in recruitment and marketing, and told his story to the New Journal and Guide shortly after his employer closed most of its campuses, Awanna is still a busy man.
He heads Nigiafest, an organization that sponsors Nigerian cultural events including Nigiafest which was held in Military Circle Mall last year. Attendance doubled from about 300 the first year to nearly twice that in the second year.
“Being in the New Journal and Guide helped Nigiafest reach a demographic that we didn’t have access to,” Awanna said. “People who read the New Journal and Guide are outside of my influence. It is a paper many read often. They came to our event, tasted, and went back enriched.”
Meanwhile, another reader, Patricia Fitchett, who runs a funeral home that her father and grandfather operated for several decades in the area, said, the New Journal and Guide featured a story on her that many read.
“They told me it was nice story,” said Fitchett who began to oversee the funeral service four years ago after her father passed.
“I would say about ten people told me they read the story. They said it was nice. We are here to continue to serve people in the community like my grandfather and father.”
By Rosaland Tyler