AFRO Publisher Frances “Toni” Draper.

By Kara Thompson,
MDDC Intern

The AFRO American Newspapers won big at the National Newspapers Publishers Association’s (NNPA) Messenger Awards this year. 

The publication, which began in 1892, was one of many newspapers recognized for their outstanding work in the Black Press. Among the eight awards won by the AFRO, the most notable was the John B. Russwurm Award, which was the pinnacle award of the evening.

The award is named after Russwurm, who was the founder of Freedom’s Journal in 1827, the first newspaper in America that was owned and operated by African Americans. It is given to the paper with the most cumulative points of all the papers recognized. 

In total, the AFRO won five first-place awards, two second-place awards, and one third-place award.

The NNPA is a trade association of over 200 African-American-owned newspapers across the country. For the past 79 years, the NNPA has been the voice of the Black community and is the largest and most influential Black-owned media resource in America. This year marks the 195th anniversary of the Black Press.

Many of the awards given out each year are named for significant Black journalists, including the  Armstrong Ellington Award in Entertainment. This year, the first place award was for an article titled “Elton John and My Coming of Age” by Mylika Scatliffe, of the AFRO. The award is named after musicians Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. 

“I’m incredibly honored and proud to be recognized both individually and as a part of the AFRO team,” said Scatliffe. “‘Elton John and My Coming of Age’ was one of my more personal pieces and I’m glad it resonated with readers.”

Frances “Toni” Draper, AFRO CEO and Publisher, wins ‘Publisher of the Year.’

Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper, chairman of the board and publisher of the AFRO, received this year’s Publisher of the Year award from the NNPA. 

“I am grateful to the members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) for selecting me as Publisher of the Year. There is absolutely nothing more thrilling (and humbling) than being recognized by one’s peers,” said Draper. “Thanks to NNPA treasurer Cheryl Smith, publisher of the Texas Metro News, for nominating me and to the NNPA Fund. I also am grateful to God, for the dedicated and talented AFRO team for trusting my leadership.” 

The AFRO publisher also added that “while our methods are constantly changing, our mission remains the same— to uplift, challenge, and empower the communities we are privileged to serve.”

The AFRO’s own Lenora Howze also won an award in advertising.  

The Lifetime Achievement Award was granted to Bobby R. Henry Sr., the publisher and CEO of Westside Gazette Newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In addition to working for the family-owned African-American newspaper, Henry has served on the board of various organizations, including the NNPA. 

Stephanie Mills, the 65-year-old R&B singer and stage actress performed a song at the event. She was given the 2022 Legacy Award, along with Rep. Maxine Waters (D–MO) of California and Jackson State University Football Head Coach Deion Sanders. 

“Where would we be without the Black press? Before we as Black artists received any press back in the day, we got love from the Black press,” said Mills, in a statement posted to Instagram. “Too many artists today forget that it was the Black newspapers that covered us. So this award means so much to me. Being honored by my own is so liberating and appreciated. So let it be known, the Black press matters.”

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