By Alexis Taylor
Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah -Jiles had a deal to break.
While some young women set their sights on money or marriage, Messiah-Jiles had made up her mind: She would buy a newspaper. Not just any newspaper- a Black-owned publication.
A peculiar arrangement was drawn up and the matter was settled-mostly.
Messiah-Jiles begged what she could, borrowed what she couldn’t, and then talked the owner into letting her assume all of his Earthen debts in exchange for his publication.
She was 27 years old.
“My mom and my dad thought I was crazy,” said Messiah-Jiles, but that didn’t stop her from going to talk with a banker. “He said, ‘You have three strikes against you — you’re single, you’re a female, and you’re Black.’”
Though obstacles seemed insurmountable, Messiah-Jiles navigated the challenges and came out on top. Forty years later, she is navigating the twists and turns of media while also continuing the legacy of the Black Press as Chief Executive Officer and Publisher of the Houston Defender Network.
“If you have a dream, go for it,” she said. “You have to work twice as hard, but what you put in determines what you get out.”
Today, Messiah-Jiles is just one of many Black publishers that have carried on the work begun in 1827 by John Brown Russworm, who published the first Black owned and operated publication: Freedom’s Journal.
Messiah-Jiles said that in 2022, Black press and Black women-owned publications are key to covering Black stories, challenges and triumphs.
“I think it’s important to have Black women in the newsroom because if you are going to serve the community, your newsroom should reflect the people that you serve. Black women are the decision makers in most
]families,” she said. “The reality is that we are the people who are managing, supervising, and controlling the household. As a result, we know what people are interested in reading about because we are the people we serve.”
In 2020, the top 10 Black newspapers in the country came together at the direction of Elinor Tatum, publisher of the New York New Amsterdam News.
“It was started for the need to support Black publishers and Black journalism during the pandemic and during a time when Black publications needed support both economically and otherwise,” said Tatum.
Tatum said the work done by Word in Black removes the dark lens often applied when Black news stories are looked at from the standpoint of traditional white media.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re telling our stories and they’re still going through the filters of others,” she said. “Our voices need to be authentic, and we need to tell our own stories.”
A total of 10 Black publications make up the Word in Black collaborative. Five of those organizations are led by women.
Aside from the publications led by Messiah-Jiles and Tatum, Janis Ware is publisher of The Atlanta Voice, and Denise Rolark-Barnes leads the Washington Informer. The AFRO has been led by Publisher Frances “Toni” Draper since 2018. Draper has served the AFRO in many capacities over the years. She was publisher of the New Jersey AFRO American Newspaper from 1974 to 1976, and served from 1986 to 1999 as president of the company.
The women publishers of Word in Black now serve as mentors for other Black journalists.
Tatum spoke about one of her mentors, recalling how the relationship made an impact.
“Susan Taylor from Essence was a big influence of mine. She was always there to give advice and be an ear.
]was a sounding board when I needed somebody,” said Tatum, adding that her father and the other women of Word in Black were also excellent mentors over the years.
Aside from Black women in the publisher’s seat, women are also leading the editorial teams of many top Black press agencies.
Roz Edward serves as managing editor of the Michigan Chronicle, and the legendary Dorothy Boulware has seen the AFRO through decades of change and revolution.
“Word in Black has been one of the best opportunities that I’ve been able to participate in during my 38 years in the industry,” said Edward. “It’s such a rich opportunity that you get to collaborate with 10 of the best Black news outlets and publishers.”
“We can work together and work to address issues as a group.”
The post Women Who Win: How the women publishers of Word in Black keep the Black press going appeared first on AFRO American Newspapers .