(Trice Edney Wire) – U. S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), noting that Black businesses are economically “at a critical crossroads”, has invited Black-owned newspapers to work with the Congressional Black Caucus to fight for more advertising dollars and respect from government, corporations and advertising firms.
“I understand thoroughly who you are and what you do and I appreciate who you are and what you do and you have a lot more leverage than what you’re using. And I want you to work with me and the Black Caucus to keep your issues front and center,” Waters said in a keynote speech during the Trice Edney News Wire’s Fifth Annual Stateswomen for Justice Luncheon at the National Press Club March 26. “We want to get together one more time and list all the procurement opportunities that we can relate to; particularly as it relates to government. …We want to make this a priority.”
Ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, Waters was speaking to an audience that included dozens of Black publishers who are members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the Black Press of America. The publishers were in Washington for the NNPA Foundation’s annual “Black Press Week”. The women publishers were invited by this reporter to be honored as “Stateswomen of the Black Press” in commemoration of Women’s History Month.
Celebrating its 75th year, NNPA publishers have remained in a constant battle for advertising dollars over the years. A major obstacle has been corporations and government agencies whose employees do not comprehend the historic role of the Black press in Black communities.
In a speech punctuated with applause and shouts of agreement from the audience, Waters, in her vintage fiery style, seized the opportunity to empathize with the struggles of Black newspapers.
“NNPA is no stranger to me,” she stressed, recalling “fighting for procurement opportunities” alongside former NNPA President Dorothy Leavell decades ago.
“As I travel throughout this country, I recognize that our Black newspaper publishers are doing a great job at being our talking drum in our communities,” she said. “The NNPA continues to be the heart and soul of our communities throughout the country…We rely on you to carry the stories that are not carried by the mainstream media. You come from our communities and you tell the stories from our perspective, you speak to our issues with conviction and a personal investment that some of our larger papers will not and cannot ever replicate.”
Yet, Black newspapers are among Black businesses from all sectors that have suffered during the economic downturn, Waters said.
“As important as it is to recognize the progress, I would be remised if I did not recognize the fact that Black-owned businesses; and especially Black-owned newspaper publishers still face an uphill battle,” she said. “Pew research center found that the newspaper industry as a whole fell from 22.9 billion in revenue in 2006 to 22.3 billion in 2013. If these are the numbers for the industry as a whole, they’re only worse for us.”
Those difficulties translate into pains in Black households as well. She pointed to the statistics:
- African-American households have 13 times less wealth than White households.
- African-Americans have $100,000 less in retirement savings than White Households.
- African-American households have an average of only $200 of readily available money while White households have roughly $23,000 of readily available household money.
- During the housing crisis, millions of African-Americans suffered foreclosures and African-Americans lost 52 percent of our wealth. During that same time period White Households lost only 16 percent of their wealth.
- Since the great recession, annual wealth for White households has increased 2.4 percent to average of $141,900 while wealth for African-Americans has continued to decrease from $16,600 to $11,000 – even for those years in recovery.
“These numbers are astonishing,” Waters said. “This racial wealth gap was caused by years of economic policies which favored the wealthy at the expense of African-Americans and other communities of color.”
A member of Congress since 1991, Waters would be next in line to become chair of the Financial Services Committee if the Democrats become a majority in the House of Representatives. This would give her extensive power in dealing with economic disparities. However, as ranking member, she has significant influence right now.
“I’ve devoted many years advocating for the Black business community and talented professionals across disciplines who have been systematically shut out of public and private sectors,” Waters said. “I fully understand that the barriers are both political and institutional that are preventing our enterprises from being as powerful as they could be and as they should be.”
A major part of winning the economic battle is getting her colleagues in Congress to understand that the inequities actually exist, Waters said.
“They really don’t understand the African-American story. That is why NNPA continues to be and has always been important. The NNPA and its 200 members has continued to fight when everyone chooses to ignore it.”
But, just as the Black press has historically fought for racial equity on behalf of others, NNPA must turn up the volume in fighting for its fair share of corporate advertising dollars, she said.
“They hire advertising firms and the advertisers advise them about where they should put their money and they’re telling them they don’t have to do anything special to reach the Black audience,” she said. “We’ve got to stop allowing this to happen. We’ve got to walk them through our culture and our history and we have to challenge them. Papers cannot exist without advertising.”
Waters concluded that she is certain that the financial strength of Black newspapers will grow with the right strategies and partnership.
“I am optimistic about our ability to achieve and to be successful. I believe in us. With that kind of optimism, it gives me the kind of strength and power to meet the challenges of the Tea Party to be able to tell our story, to be able to set as the ranking member of the financial services committee and to challenge Wall Street,” she said. “And so I don’t want you to stop. I don’t ever want you to be discouraged. I want you to work hard and we’re going to have to find ways to work harder with you. I think we have some leveraging points that we have not been using. We must keep the Black Press Alive, we must keep it vibrant, we must ensure that whatever direction technology takes us, the minority press has a place and a stake in America’s media landscape.”