By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
When the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) removed the interim president and CEO tag from Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. in 2014, then NNPA Board Chair Cloves Campbell conveyed to the membership that the civil rights icon possessed the talent and contacts to make an immediate impact.
Campbell, the publisher of the Arizona Informant, also highlighted another of Chavis’ intangibles from which Black-owned media companies would benefit: energy.
Eight years later, and a decade after running the NNPA on an interim basis, Chavis, has continued to display the kind of energy seen primarily in individuals less than half his age.
He’s also led the NNPA, representing the 195-year-old Black Press of America, to financial prosperity when newspapers and media companies universally struggle to keep the doors open.
Among the most recent accomplishments under Chavis, the Black Press finally received all-access to the White House.
It was Chavis leading a large contingent of Black Press publishers to Charleston, South Carolina, during the 2020 primary season where they met with candidate Joe Biden.
At the time, Biden trailed mightily in the polls and needed a victory in Dixie to survive. Chavis’ interview with Biden went viral, the former vice president then received a crucial endorsement from Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), won the primary, and his campaign rode the wave all the way to the White House.
He’s also brokered deals with or strengthened partnerships with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GM, Reynolds, AARP, API, and many others.
As he traversed the globe – in protective gear – during the pandemic, Chavis, by his actions and deft deal making, often reminded publishers, partners, sponsors, employees, and others of the catchy slogan he’s lived by since he was a wide-eyed 14-year-old serving in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“A luta continua” – or “the struggle continues.”
Because of his dedication and steadying hand, the historic all-Black woman board of the NNPA unanimously has chosen Chavis as the recipient of the 2023 NNPA Lifetime Achievement Award.
They will present the honor at a special gala during the NNPA’s NNPA’s Annual Midwinter Training Conference.
With the theme, “Digital Innovation, Training, and Engagement of the Black Press of America,” the conference convenes on Feb. 1 at the San Juan Marriott Beach Resort and Stelaris Casino, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“I’ve very honored to be considered by the NNPA for this esteemed award,” Chavis remarked.
“I do believe that, if anything, my life represents a life of a freedom fighter. However, I want to emphasize that accepting this award in no way should be interpreted as saying that the struggle for freedom has been completely won.”
“We’ve made tremendous progress in the last 100 years, but we still have a lot of progress and freedom to fight for.
“If I’ve learned anything over my last 75 years, it’s that when you win freedom to any extent, you must fight to preserve that freedom. You must fight to protect that freedom, endow that freedom, and sustain that freedom.
“Thus, I’m not willing to retire from being a freedom fighter. So, I accept this award as an incentive to keep fighting for freedom for people of African descent, Americans, and those worldwide.”
Chavis has a well-documented history.
The leader of the Wilmington 10 political prisoners, Chavis is also renowned for his early fight for environmental justice.
In the 1980s, he coined the term “environmental racism.”
Chavis has advised many prominent politicians and entertainers – many like Hip Hop and Business Mogul Russell Simmons, refer to Chavis as a mentor.
A former NAACP president, Chavis organized the Million Man March and co-founded the Hip Hop Summit with Simmons.
A younger generation of admirers still approaches Chavis in awe of his appearance in the hip hop classic movie drama, “Belly.”
Many of all ages continue to revere Chavis as a civil rights leader and a reverend.
“Dr. Chavis has given meaning to the words of Micah 6:8 in the Bible,” said San Diego Voice & Viewpoint Publisher Dr. John Warren.
Quoting the King James Bible, Warren said of Chavis, “And what does the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Chavis has served the NNPA and “the people of this country with honesty, integrity, and selflessness, without looking for awards, recognition, or accolades,” said NNPA Vice Chair and Atlanta Voice Publisher Janis Ware.
“Today, we celebrate a man who leads with heart, love for his God, and all people from all walks of life. He is truly a rare human being. One to go down in the annals of human history as special and one for the ages.”
NNPA Treasurer and Texas Metro News Publisher Cheryl Smith also praised Chavis for having “led a life of service.”
“He is a true servant leader who has his finger on the pulse of our people, our communities, and the world,” Smith asserted.
“I am so appreciative of his leadership, wisdom, and support,” she added.
NNPA Fund Chairman and Los Angeles Wave Publications CEO Pluria Marshall Jr. called Chavis a potent and stabilizing force.
“For more than ten years, Ben has been a potent and stabilizing force for NNPA and its nonprofit NNPA Fund,” Marshall insisted.
“He is a visionary consensus builder and community advocate whose calm and deft communication skills have helped make the Black Press an even stronger media force in America.”
“From his longtime commitment to civil rights to his ardent passion for equity and justice, Ben has consistently proven himself to be the consummate public servant.
“He is more than deserving of this lifetime achievement award, and I am pleased to endorse his selection to this prestigious honor.”
Chavis noted that those sentiments mean a great deal.
“This award is particularly significant because it comes from my colleagues, fellow publishers, journalists, editors, and writers,” Chavis said.
“It reminds me of James Baldwin when he said the pen is mightier than the sword.”
“I’m thankful I’ve been able to use my pen as an instrument for freedom. I accept this award on behalf of the Chavis family, a freedom-fighting family fighting for freedom worldwide for over 250 years.”
Westside Gazette Publisher Bobby Henry said it’d been some time since someone has stood on the shoulders of history makers to demand freedom, justice, and equality for all, particularly for Black people after enduring suffering because of the fight.
“I am one to say, because of the strength, courage, and fortitude of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the Black Press of America, the NNPA, and the world are better because of him,” Henry asserted.
“Congratulations, Dr. Chavis. A luta continua.”
While preparing for the conference, Chavis said he was far from finished.
“When I came to this job ten years ago, I came with a sense of optimism,” Chavis recalled.
“Now, ten years later, my optimism has increased exponentially because I see the potential of the Black Press. I’m very pleased to see so many young Generation Z journalists, writers, photographers, and content creators.”
“I think the future in this digital space … it’s not just that we should be in this space but leading the space forward. So, my optimism is still intact and has increased because I’ve seen not only the expansion and success of the Black Press over the last decade, but I’ve seen glimpses of the brighter future ahead.
“The biggest challenge is the economic and equity question. We must work on that to sustain Black-owned businesses, particularly Black-owned media, economically and equitably. That’s the next hurdle, and I will live out my years making sure that we don’t miss a beat in improving the economic equity of Black-owned businesses and Black-owned media companies.”