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The Black Voice News: A Pioneer of Community Activism

NCM Profile

Daniela Rible Posted: Mar 23, 2004

The Black Voice News has been a strong advocate for the voiceless and disenfranchised of Riverside and San Bernardino counties for over 30 years.

Cheryl Brown, Co-Publisher of The Black Voice News

The paper began as the Black Voice in 1972 by a group of students at the University of California at Riverside who felt that daily newspapers were ignoring the concerns of black students. Feeling shut out, they created a student newspaper to cover issues such as school segregation, campus unrest and racial profiling.

In 1980, several years after they graduated, Cheryl and Hardy Brown purchased the newspaper and changed its editorial direction. The husband and wife team expanded the newspaper's coverage to include voices from the black community in the entire Inland Empire, which is home to an estimated 250,000 African Americans and four black newspapers.

Since then, the newspaper has made a name for itself by publishing hard-hitting news stories.

"We cover more controversial issues in the community that others shy away from," says co-publisher Cheryl Brown.

In 1998, The Black Voice News covered the high-profile case of Tyisha Miller, a 19-year-old teenager who was shot to death more than 12 times by four Riverside police while sitting in her car. During the two years of community protests following the tragedy, the newspaper featured a front-page story on the case every week. The paper even published the autopsy drawings of the victim. This continuous coverage of the case, says Brown, led to a series of threats against the paper.

"I felt very threatened and it was a very scary time," Brown says. "Things came to a head when there was a swastika painted next to my car."

After the Tyisha Miller case came to a close, a forceful editorial by co-publisher Hardy Brown requested the Riverside City Council not to reinstate the four police officers involved in the case, as this would send the wrong signal to the community. Though originally the City Council was considering rehiring the fired law enforcement officials, they were not reinstated.

Brown says The Black Voice News was also one of the first news outlets to publicize Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompsons recent admission that an Institute of Medicine report downplayed unequal treatment of blacks and Latinos in healthcare. Though other daily papers covered this story, The Black Voice News educated people about the issue by featuring it prominently on its front page.

In addition to its news reporting, the 16-page weekly also offers a spirituality section that includes information on faith-based activities and profiles of pastors and others in the community who have changed their lives through faith. 95% of the pastors in the area read the paper, according to Brown, who describes the newspaper's audience as a diverse cross-section of socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds.

The Black Voice's 7,500 to 10,000 copies are distributed weekly to news racks outside stores, small businesses and schools throughout the Inland Empire. Since 1996, readers have also been able to access the newspaper online at www.blackvoicenews.com. In fact, The Black Voice News was the second African American paper in the country to go online, says Brown. Its website includes an online forum, a calendar of events a chat room on current issues.

The newspaper's involvement in the community goes beyond its editorial coverage. The Black Voice News initiated the Building Better Communities program, which works with local companies, organizations and agencies to improve neighborhoods. Through coverage of business and economic development, health, law enforcement diversity, education and homeownership, the newspaper educates people in order to make the region a more desirable place to live.

The paper has organized several events honoring Booker T. Washington, who visited Riverside in 1914, including a symposium a few years ago and a statue that will soon be unveiled at the Mission Inn in Riverside.

The publication is now partnering with the local school district to co-sponsor a video project that films elders in the community as they tell stories in English and Spanish. In the process, the seniors learn skills in scriptwriting, computers and video editing, and young people learn about the histories of their families and communities. The short films are shown at screenings attended by their families and city leaders.

The Black Voice News also played a principle role in creating the "Footsteps to Freedom," an Underground Railroad field study program for teachers. In 1994, the newspaper received an invitation from Greene County, Ohio, to retrace the steps many African Americans took when escaping slavery. This year the program returns for a seventh year.

The newspaper employs a full-time staff of five people, including the Browns' daughters, Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds and Regina Brown, who plan to eventually take over the family business.

Though its operation is small, the Black Voice News' coverage of controversial issues, and its active role in improving the lives of people in the community, has made it a respected voice and leader in the Inland Empire.

Related Stories: NCM Ethnic Media Mixer - San Bernardino

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