The National Newspaper Publishers Association held the 2023 National Leadership Awards, where they honored leaders who have supported the Black Press. Shown here, former NNPA Chairman Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr. (left), and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Steven Horsford (D-NV-04). (Photos courtesy of NNPA Newswire)

By Helen Bezuneh,
Special to the AFRO

The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a trade association of more than 200 African American-owned newspapers across the U.S, hosted the 2023 National Leadership Awards on Sept. 17 in Washington, D.C. The organization, also known as the Black Press of America, held the event to honor change-making leaders who have shown unwavering support for the Black Press.

“We, the publishers of the NNPA, the Black Press of America, are rooted in hope and determination and we will continue to provide a platform to recognize those who have shown exceptional leadership, love for our communities and the willingness to serve unselfishly,” said Bobby Henry, NNPA chair and publisher of the Westside Gazette in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We remain committed in the spirit of TEAMM– and we spell that with two m’s– we are ebonically correct. TEAMM means “Together Each Accomplishes Much More” as we continue to amplify the voices that represent the least, the lost, the left out and the disenfranchised.”

WPGC 95.5 news director Guy Lambert hosted this year’s ceremony, the theme of which was “The Black Press of America Salutes Black Leadership Excellence.”

The NNPA ultimately awarded Steven Horsford (D-NV), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and U.S. representative from Nevada’s fourth district, Niesha Foster, vice president of product access, global health and social impact at Pfizer, Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), Shontel Brown (D-Ohio), Jessie Woolley-Wilson, president and CEO of DreamBox Learning and widely renowned attorney Benjamin Crump.

Opening the event, Lambert commented on the Black Press of America’s 196-year-long run, noting that the organization will reach their bicentennial anniversary in four years.

Henry then spoke to the crowd, welcoming attendees to the occasion.

“As the chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the NNPA, the Black Press of America, and on behalf of our over 240 publishers and President Dr. Benjamin Chavis, our staff, we extend our warmest congratulations to you, the distinguished awardees of the NNPA National Leadership Awards,” said Henry.

Lambert then invited NNPA president and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr, to the stage. Chavis proceeded to passionately recognize the NNPA’s publishers. “We thank God for the Black Press of America,” he said. “We thank God for Black America. We thank God for America–even in its imperfections. Even in its hold on racial disparity and racial discrimination, America is still gonna be a better America because of Black America.”

To celebrate Black excellence, Lambert welcomed activist Reverend Mark Thompson to speak.

“I actually see nothing but Black excellence in this room tonight, give yourselves a round of applause,” said Thompson.

Thompson then acknowledged notable folks in the audience, including Tyler Huntley, quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens, newly elected Harlem city council member and member of the Exonerated Five Dr. Yusef Salaam, Greg Jackson, recently appointed deputy director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee and Demetria Mccain, principal deputy assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Thompson presented the night’s first National Leadership Award to Shontel Brown.

“My constituents have a very clear standard for service and expectation that I will be there for them each and every day,” Brown said in her acceptance speech. “That’s what inspires me to keep fighting for economic justice and opportunity for Black communities and to keep fighting for civil rights, voting rights and women’s rights…Black newspapers and media have been instrumental in advancing justice, fairness and equity in this country.”

Horsford then received his award.

“At a time when our democracy is under attack, we also know that the press and the Black press is under attack,” he said. “That is why we have to make every effort to support you, to fund you…we understand that is an important part of your success and your sustainability.”

“To the battles with senate leaders, including senate democrats, in overturning traditions rooted in segregation and Jim Crow, to the overturning of affirmative action by the supreme court,” Horsford added. “To seeing young Black legislators being ejected from their state bodies for speaking out for their constituents on issues dealing with gun safety. To legislatures ignoring and in fact defying the U.S. Supreme Court that has told them that Black people in their states of Alabama and Louisiana are required to have an additional voice in congress for their state. To the book bans in several states and the rewriting of Black history, to the attempts to erase our history. These are just a few of the examples of the attacks on our blackness that we’ve dealt with this year alone.”

Though honoree Jessie Woolley-Wilson was not able to attend, she sent in a video of thanks for her award.

“At DreamBox Learning, we try to unlock the learning potential of every child, regardless of their start in life, their race, their gender, their zip code–– none of it matters,” she said. “As long as we invest in all of them.”

Thompson then welcomed Niesha Foster to receive her award.

“Our belief is that if everybody does their part to advance health equity, we will no longer have disparities in health outcomes,” she said in her speech. “We all have a role to play…as we move forward, I am hopeful that together we will be able to advance health especially for those who are underserved and long forgotten.”

Jackie Hampton, publisher of Mississippi Link Newspaper, came to the stage to celebrate this year’s Google News Initiative scholarship recipients, awarded through the NNPA. Recipients, who study journalism at historically Black colleges and universities, were awarded $2500 cash scholarships.

R&B duo Ruff Endz performed with One Vision Band to close the ceremony, stirring the crowd with their soulful vocals and melodies.