By Lauren Poteat, Special to the AFRO

The 2018 National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA) annual convention started off with a bang in the city of Norfolk, as the organization spearheaded their theme “Sustaining, Engaging and Mobilizing Black Communities.

Supporting the week-long conference held June 26-June 30, Norfolk’s first Black Mayor, Kenneth Alexander, issued a proclamation in the area, declaring it “Black Press of America Week.”

Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. accepts the 2018 NNPA Lifetime Legacy Award during the 2018 NNPA Lifetime Legacy Award Black Tie Gala in Norfolk, Va. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)

“I, Kenneth Alexander, mayor of the city of Norfolk, do hereby proclaim June 26-June 30, 2018 as ‘Black Press of America Week’ in the city of Norfolk, encouraging all citizens to recognize the National Newspaper Publishers Association for its monumental achievement and historic role in reshaping and diversifying the print media industry,” the proclamation read.

In addition to the mayor’s decree, eager convention attendees and publishers awaited the coveted Merit Awards—an evening of elegance dedicated to recognizing individual newspapers, publishers and other staff members for excellence in journalism, with high awards. This year the big winners included the Miami Times, who took home 12 Merit Awards, the Birmingham Times, which won the John H. Sengstacke Award for General Excellence Award and again the Miami Times, who also earned an award in the General Excellence category that focused on the number of points earned throughout the ceremony.  The AFRO was honored for its online presence, particularly its revamped website, as well as Best Editorial Cartoon.

The North Dallas Gazette earned first place in the Robert S. Abbott Best Editorial Award and the Washington Informer and Final Call, took home second and third place awards in the same category.

Other winners included the Chicago Crusader, Seattle Medium, Los Angeles Sentinel, Houston Defender, the New Tri-State Defender, Richmond Free Press, the New Journal and Guide, the Atlanta Voice, the Indianapolis Recorder, and Insight News.

“We are all winners, even if you didn’t hear your name called,” Amelia Ashley-Ward, NNPA Foundation chair and publisher of the San Francisco Sun-Reporter, said. “When one of us wins, we all wins.”

Rounding out the evening, the foundation also awarded 21 scholarships to dynamic Black scholars, furthering their education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Closing out the auspicious week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr, was gifted the NNPA Lifetime Legacy Award—the highest honor presented by the organization.

Celebrating the legendary activist, Jackson received his award for his decades of service as one of the country’s foremost civil rights, religious and political figures.

“This honor takes on a special meaning for me because my first job was selling the Norfolk Journal and Guide newspaper and then the Baltimore AFRO American and then the Pittsburgh Courier,” Jackson said. “We couldn’t see the other side of Jackie Robinson. We couldn’t see the other side of Sugar Ray Robinson, but the Black Press was there.”