AFRO team members on the lot of the Edgewood Street location. (AFRO File Photo)

By Stephen Janis
Special to the AFRO

The pandemic has taken a toll on businesses across the country, and the AFRO is no exception.  Like many companies the storied paper has had to adapt to a constantly evolving business climate that has been especially challenging for independent media. 

But thanks to a number of initiatives launched before and during the current crisis, the organization is in the process of a transformation that CEO and Publisher Dr. Frances Murphy Draper says puts it on track for a bright future.

“There are two words, reimagining and pivoting,” said Dr. Draper. Along with an array of new editorial products, Dr. Draper also announced that the paper is moving into new office space, Stadium Square at 145 Ostend Street, located across the street from the Ravens M&T Bank Stadium. The new space allows employees to go into the office if they choose or to continue to telework, which the company has fostered since the shutdown. Stadium Square will serve as the AFRO’s temporary headquarters until the move into what will be its permanent home, Baltimore’s historical Upton Mansion.

“And for us at the AFRO ‘pivot’ was already on our radar, and COVID-19 has been instrumental in speeding things up.” 

That meant the first order of business was coordinating resources to allow the staff to work safely from home; a process that entailed building out the technological infrastructure to make remote work possible and upgrading the website to make it more user friendly. 

“The safety of our staff comes first.”

But it also included prioritizing initiatives that were put in motion before the pandemic which are just coming to fruition now. 


“We want the AFRO to not just survive, but thrive and be relevant,” Dr. Draper said.  “Newspapers may be dying out, but the thirst for information has not.”

And that’s not all. “We’ve also had to come up with new and creative ways to replace the traditional advertising revenue streams that were adversely impacted by COVID-19,” said Lenora Howze, the AFRO’s Executive/Advertising Director.

To that end the AFRO has launched joint ventures, partnered with the Local Media Association (LMA) to raise funds, applied for and been the recipient of several grants, and developed new publications and a variety of new content that will leverage its growing digital and print presence. All of this continues to build upon the foundation of a newspaper that has published without interruption over three different centuries.  

Last week the paper announced “Word in Black,” an alliance with 10 Black-owned publications to share content and pursue joint projects that Dr. Draper says is just the beginning.   

“We want to make sure the Black press is part of the national conversation.”

The point of the coalition is not solely to collaborate on content, but to seek solutions to the vexing crisis of racial inequality that continues to thwart progress across the country. 

The AFRO also recently launched a unique and innovative “membership” program; inviting readers to become “members” by participating in several levels of commitment, digital only, digital and print, and corporate.  Subscribers are issued a membership card that offers discounts from participating partners.


The company has also made strides to leverage its massive social media presence, which reaches 1.5 million readers per week across a variety of platforms. Last month the AFRO launched a show targeted to its 670,000 Facebook followers called The Chicken Boxx.  

The live talk show aims to dispel myths about African Americans while engaging in constructive conversations about race, Dr. Draper says.

In March, the company released a timely book highlighting the role of Black women in the struggle for voting rights. “To the Front: Black Women and the Vote,” in 118 pages,  features color photographs and historical material from the AFRO archives along with essays from women who have contributed to the AFRO past and present.

Readers will be surprised with the reoccurrence of the series, “We’re Still Here,” begun in July to address the ongoing violence Black citizens experience in encounters with police. In January, 2021,  and each month following, a 40+ page magazine-style paper will focus on a single topic, melding current news and community happenings with historical pieces from the AFRO Archives.

Along with the new content is a push for more data driven investigative reporting; journalism that will do more than just seek to identify problems. 

“We want to grow in our impact and influence for the betterment of the community, Dr. Draper said.  “That means finding solutions too.” 


The AFRO publisher credits a multi-generational staff as the primary ingredient for the progress of the company despite daunting obstacles.   A wide variety of both perspectives and talents she believes is the key formula for success.

“We have great people on our team,” she said. “I’m a proud fourth generation, I want to make sure the 5th and 6th generation are involved too.”

National and Local News Editor Jessica Dortch is one of the staffers representing the younger generations. She says part of her job is reaffirming the connection between the AFRO and younger readers.

“My mission here is to make sure that millennials know that they can count on us for dependable and relatable news on topics that directly affect our community,” Dortch said. 

“I want them to know that the AFRO is a safe place for their voices to be heard.” 

And for those interested in the “merch,” a visit to, will yield finds of T-shirts, hoodies and tote bags, all bearing the AFRO logo.

Founded in 1892 by John H. Murphy Sr., the AFRO is the oldest African-American, family-owned, continuously operating media organization in the country. 

The current crisis marks another historic moment through which the paper has thrived, having survived two world wars, the Jim crow era, the great depression and tumult of the struggle to achieve civil rights.

But Dr. Draper says the organization views the most recent set of challenges as a moment of positive transformation.  

“The flipside of a crisis is opportunity, and we have been blessed to have many opportunities, she said. 

“And we must meet these challenges and engage them for the communities who depend upon us.”