This year marks 120 years since our forerunner, The Gospel Herald was first published, and 84 years since The Message Magazine, by God’s grace, made its providential debut. We remain in awe and humility at the task God has given us.
Two discoveries have stimulated awareness in my own destiny, and I share them with you for analogy sake. First, and with thanks to my friend Alvin Singleton, who like Skip Gates on the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” investigated my people. My paternal ancestors were among free blacks who lived in Philadelphia in the 19th Century. One even fought in the Civil War. I simply hadn’t known my own story before that, but to learn that we were free sets me—perhaps dangerously so—in an unapologetic, unafraid, and unashamed posture.
Second, after reading Freedom Fighters: From Monk to Mazumbo, written by Ira Philip, I learned one of my ancestors was a clergyman and newspaper publisher. While working in Bermuda, his turn-of-the-century paper advocated:
For the cause that needs assistance
For the wrong that needs resistance
For the future in the distance
And all the good that we can do
We also find inspiration in the work of activist and journalist Ida B. Wells Barnett, who was formerly enslaved, but dug her heels in, and her teeth for that matter, when she was unlawfully ejected from a railroad car in 1884. She found no justice in the Tennessee court system. It was because she had a story to tell that she ran the Free Speech and Headlight, later just the Free Speech. Hers became one of the few newspapers to investigate and report on lynching of black people nationwide. Lynching was “mocking our laws and disgracing our Christianity,” she wrote.
“Lynching Our National Crime,” Proceedings of the National Negro Conference, 1909, New York, May 31 and June 1 (New York, 1909), pp. 174-179.
Other black newspapers filled voids in their communities—shining a light on the black experience, black trauma and black triumph. Publishing that fulfills this role now includes the perspective of any observer with social media and a cell phone. And, writes David Love—journalist and contributor to TheGrio.com and CNN, “What is certain is there is a sense of responsibility to the community, advocating for that community and telling their stories from their perspective.” These platforms in an age of racial politics, and metamorphosing publishing, are golden.
We remain in awe and humility at the task God has given us.
Brenda Andrews, owner, editor and publisher of the New Journal and Guide, established in 1900, finds the preserving hand of God still at work in her business. When she went from being an employee and stock-holder to editor and owner after the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1992, she knew God as a sustainer and provider. But, why? I asked her. Why would God want to intervene and spare this paper, this platform? Civil rights gains in the 1960s and 70s, found losses in the 1980s, Andrews said. Footholds gained during the 1990s and 2000s, are now again met with rollbacks in civility the protections designed to help us secure footing in the first place. The black press, then, opposes the resulting sense of abject vulnerability.
“The black press was founded to alter that kind of thinking,” Andrews said. It was created to get people of African descent to realize who we were, write our own story about what we can do, rather than leaving that to other people who don’t want us to succeed to tell the story. We can be what God wants us to be. Even though it doesn’t appear to be as pivotal as it was in the days of segregation, we are as important and vital today, and that’s why God has intervened.”
Andrews’ keen assessment could not have fallen on more welcoming ears. We know the interference of the detractor, the troller, and the bigot comes between black people and their God. We believe correcting the narrative—the lie that the race is cursed and destined for poverty or failure, deserving of marginalization, or whether the narrative dismisses God as a tool in the hand in the oppressor—and contradicting those ideas, is a divine mission into which God inserts Himself.
That is the breath-taking freedom, confidence and assurance that makes us dangerous to satanic forces, and all the assurance we need to persevere. As the Lord said, (and no matter what anyone else says): “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).
This article is part of our January/February 2018 Issue