U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (left) and News One television talk show host Roland Martin. (Twitter and Courtesy Photo)

The trade association of Black-owned newspapers in the United States convened Sept. 17 in the District, coinciding with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 45th Annual Legislative Conference, to honor political leaders and high-achieving African Americans that support their cause and businesses.

The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) held its annual leadership awards reception at the Marriott Marquis Washington DC Hotel with dozens in attendance. The organization’s chairman, Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer, said honoring allies of the Black press is crucial to its survival.

“The annual leadership award reception aims to bring our readers, partners and supporters together to pay homage to our dedicated and hard-working publishers and to salute others who have graced our pages and expanded our cause through an evolving Black-owned media,” Barnes said.

Benjamin Chavis, president and CEO of the NNPA, said the organization is celebrating its 75th anniversary and this year is the 188th year since the first African-American newspaper, Freedom’s Journal was published in 1827.

“We’re now involved in all types of digital and social media,” Chavis said. “We have approximately 205 newspapers across the country telling the story of our people.”

During the event, Black publishers came to the podium to announce their names and publications and how long they have been in business. 

U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), who is a 2016 candidate for the U.S. Senate, was one of the honorees. News One television talk show host Roland Martin, social activist and communicator Rahiel Tesfamariam, ballet dancer Misty Copeland and Congressional Black Caucus Foundation President and CEO A.  Shuanise Washington were also fêted.

Edwards said throughout her career, she has shown respect for Black newspapers. “For me, the newspapers of record are the Washington Informer and the AFRO,” she said. “No one can tell our story the way we should tell our story. The big papers don’t tell people about job fairs or college fairs.”

Edwards’ colleagues, U.S. Reps. Al Green (D-Texas), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), attended the event.

Martin said that his first paycheck as a news professional came from a Black newspaper and he prefers working for the Black media. “I have never allowed the White media to validate my skill set,” he said. “We  still have a validation mentality and I am unapologetically Black.”

Tesfamariam thanked Barnes for helping to develop her career and spoke strongly about the need of Black media. “The Black press is a tool for liberation in this country,” she said. “To hold a pen is to be at war.”

Copeland, the first Black principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, didn’t attend the event.

Washington also didn’t come to collect her award, but Shrita Sterlin-Hernandez, the vice president for communications for the CBCF, spoke on her behalf.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) praised the work of Black newspapers during the uprising that took place in her city a few months ago. “I want to thank you on how you treated Baltimore,” the mayor said. “The riots weren’t the whole story. Baltimore is more than riots and unrest and you got it.”