S. E. Williams, Staff Writer
For 43 years the Black Voice News has kept its covenant with the community. Through a sustained commitment to excellence, a passion for truth and an unwavering dedication to empowerment it has transferred knowledge through the written word in ways that are substantive and transformative.
What started more than four decades ago as an idea, a clarion call, a clamoring by a group of African American students at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) for the opportunity to have their voices heard, has become an institution.
At the time, UCR students were not allowed to publish in either the Press Enterprise or the school’s own publication, the Highlander.
Former owners the Black Voice News Publisher Emeritus Hardy Brown and his wife, State Assemblymember Cheryl Brown, joined the paper’s staff early on. In an exclusive interview with The Voice, Assemblymember Brown explained how the UCR students complained to school administrators they could not get their articles published in the school paper. In response, school administrators gave them 500 dollars to start their own.
Sam Martin, co-founder of the Precinct Reporter and the American News also helped found the Black Voice News. Martin was joined in the endeavor by Artis Lilly who became the publisher, Hardy Brown who became editor and Assemblywmember Brown, all of whom believed that everyone should have an opportunity to have their voices heard.
At the time, “We want a voice. We want a Black voice,” was the mantra of the UCR students—a sentiment totally in alignment with the political climate of the 1970s. And, that is exactly what the Black Voice News did. “It gave voice to people in the community,” the Assemblymember explained.
In 1980, Martin offered the Browns the opportunity to own the paper. For the Browns, who for so long had an interest in the media, it was an offer they could not refuse. Right away they transitioned the publication to more closely align with their vision. “We changed the focus and how it was delivered,” Assemblymember Brown shared. “We made it attractive to read.”
One of the initial strategies deployed by the Browns was to initially reduce production volume as a way to increase demand. “He [Hardy Brown] pulled back on the number of papers available and began to feature interviews, stories of interest from local politicians including the mayor and others. The interviewees would subsequently ask associates whether they had seen the article in The Black Voice. Those inquiries increased demand. “That is also how the paper started to make a name for itself, a name that people respected,” Brown explained.
The Browns covered stories in ways different from before. “We did not just look at police reports,” Brown confided. It certainly helped purpose a story but instead, they would get their stories from the people actually affected by an incident.
The Browns’ approach to reporting, their diligence in a quest for truth helped shine a piercing light into dark corners of the Tyisha Miller story.
Just after Christmas 1998, Miller, a young African American woman fell asleep in her car. When family members could not awaken her they called the police out of abundance of concern and for assistance. Within minutes of Riverside police officers arrival on the scene, Miller was dead—shot to death in her car by officers in a barrage of bullets.
The Browns were so tenacious in their reporting on the incident even as it garnered the attention of national media and civil rights organizations; while simultaneously their efforts stoked the ire of many police advocates. The Browns exposed how some members of the police/press went to Miller’s high school to dig up old school-generated reports totally unrelated to the incident. “They were telling us different things about the shooting but through our own endeavors we printed the autopsy drawing,” Assemblymember Brown explained.
According to Assemblywoman Brown they were compelled to report the story with tenacity after attending a publisher’s meeting in Arizona early in the course of the investigation. At the meeting, the Browns shared their concern over the horrible shooting that occurred in their community. They soon learned the Tyisha Miller story was not an aberration; that what happened to Miller was happening all over the country in one way or another.
Owed to the advocacy of the Black Voice, Miller’s story stayed in the press. Locally, more than 1000 citizens participated in a march for justice. “It was a tumultuous time,” Brown shared. “The State Attorney General even came down to Southern California—he wanted to see it, feel it, and hear it.”
The officers were fired but never prosecuted due to insufficient evidence. However, the intense focus by the media, civil rights advocates and others resulted in the first order in which the state directed a law enforcement agency to make changes as part of a consent decree.
The Browns were relentless in their commitment to use the Black Voice to advocate for justice in this case but their efforts came at a price. They were threatened; harassed with racist graffiti including the placement of swastikas on their newsstands; subjected to tormenting telephone calls; had their newsstands removed; and, the list of retaliations goes on and on. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was involved and attempted to fetter out the culpable.
In the end, reports on the Tyisha Miller incident by the Black Voice garnered even more visibility and heightened credibility for the paper.
In 2002, the Browns were honored with a place in the Gallery of Greats of Black Newspaper publishers where they now stand among other giants of Black media that include both Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells.
When Assemblymember Brown decided to transition from the newspaper industry to politics her change was not difficult. “I was always giving voice to people who needed their voices heard,” she confided. Now, not only does she facilitate opportunities for their voices to be heard, it takes the experience to a whole different level, “Now, I can do more than talk,” she shared. “I have the ability to change lives.”
As much as Assemblymember Brown loved her work at the paper, as a state representative she could not do both. She expressed her pride and appreciation for how her daughter, Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds, has continued to expand and grow the work she and her husband started.
“My success will be if the things we put in place will continue to improve and go on from generation to generation.” She shared and added, “I’m proud of the efforts of all of my children who are continuing to grow what we built.”
Beyond the newspaper efforts of Brown-Hinds, Hardy Brown II is steering the Black Voice Foundation; daughter Regina Brown Wilson is chairing the efforts of the California Black Media; daughter Lynn Renee Summers provides support through the Board of Directors; and, son-in-law Rickerby (Kerby) Hinds has added Hindsight Productions to the family’s business portfolio.
Beyond family, Assemblymember Brown expressed unwavering appreciation and support for the entire team. “I want to praise the staff,” she shared as she acknowledged how important their hardwork, loyalty, and support has been to the organization’s success.
The Team Leaders
Executive Editor Lee Ragin, Jr. has been with the Brown Publishing Company for 23 years. Though he initially joined the team as a Graphic Designer his role as Executive Editor of The Voice is viewed as pivotal to the publication’s success.
“The paper has always been an advocacy publication giving a voice to the disenfranchised while remaining informative, insightful, and thought provoking,” he shared during a recent interview. According to Ragin, at editorial meetings the staff considers what is currently making headlines and questions how the headline will impact/affect the community. While considering the constraints of a weekly publication relative to deadlines, they remain steadfastly focused on relevancy, credibility and integrity as top priorities in their quest for excellence in publication.
In his role as Executive Editor, Ragin helped steward the April 2013 print redesign from The Black Voice to The Voice.
Since the paper’s transition to the Voice, one edition that really stood out for Ragin was the May 16, 2013 cover of March Air Force Base Joint Powers Authority Commissioner and Moreno Valley Councilman Bill Batey. It was the first portrait photography used on the cover of The Voice by renowned photographer Benoit Malphettes.
“This cover solidified the hard work of the entire BPC Media Works team relative to the transformation from community newspaper to community newsmagazine.”
BPC Media Works is the parent company of The Voice. To access these publications on line, visit theievoice.com, and blackvoicenews.com.
When Ragin was asked what excites him most about the future of the business he shared, “As the paper continues to grow, the entire team is challenged weekly to make each publication better than the last.” He also shared there is a lot of excitement and potential in the redesign of blackvoicenews.com as it evolves to an expansive on-line media presence that reaches beyond the Inland Empire, to California, the nation, and the world.
Though she took the helm of The Black Voice News three years ago, Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds came of age in the family business where she availed herself to opportunities to hone her industry skills for at least fourteen years.
When asked about the current structure of the organization she explained, “In 1980 my parents created Brown Publishing Company (BPC) to publish the Black Voice News.” BPC Media works is its outreach arm, she added.
Brown-Hinds discussed how the media portion of the family business is shape-shifting while maintaining its focus on excellence in reporting. “The Black Voice News is now a part of a more diverse company,” she explained and added, “The blackvoicenews.com still has a large following of readers although currently it is only an online publication.” However, it will be re-launched in the next month as a national online publication.
In regards to The Voice newspaper, it currently appears in three formats, print circulation, online at theievoice.com and digitally.
Distinguishing between the two publications, Brown-Hinds explained how the Black Voice is seen as having potential to grow into a national and international entity as an online publication. It has a much broader reach geographically than The Voice. To accomplish the new objective, “We have hired Patrick Edgett a local tech entrepreneur as the project manager and we are adding national contributors to the Black Voice News (BVN),” she shared.
Brown-Hinds is also committed to maximizing the organizations use of technology as a way to enhance market penetration. “We utilize all forms of social media including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vines, and a variety of different platforms to capture and engage readers.” Through social media she hopes to grow digitally as a way to extend their footprint without having to grow their print product.
Where the BVN publication is aimed at inspiring and educating African Americans both locally and in the Diaspora, The Voice is focused on regional and local issues affecting everyone and everything. “It is a community paper focused on local city and county government issues that impact everyone. “Our goal is to keep it very rooted in the community.” Brown-Hinds sees The Voice newspaper as the voice of all people in the communities on all issues from local government to corporate disparities to issues related to social justice.
Keenly aware of the changing demographics in the Inland Empire, as part of the Voice’s networking efforts with a board coalition of community members it is also focused on supporting future candidates for public office. The Brown family has lived that commitment since Hardy Brown served on the school board. “We help mentor people interested in public office,” she said. “We are working to develop new leaders—we help get them involved in community organizations and encourage them to run for public office.”
What started as the Black Voice News has extended far beyond its original scope and risen far above the original hopes of its progenitors. With dedication, compassion, vision and commitment, Brown-Hinds and her siblings and spouse are strengthening the family’s commitment to empower African Americans and the local community by transferring knowledge through a plethora of media in ways that can transform the community.
Two other examples of the family’s commitment to this mission are the Black Voice Foundation and Hindsight Productions.
The Black Voice Foundation
Hardy Brown II assumed stewardship of the Black Voice Foundation over seven years ago. The foundation grew out of his parents outreach to educate students and others about the careers available in the press media, how the business works and how it has grown. It is possibly the only organization in the Inland Empire that offers services across both Riverside and San Bernardino County School Districts.
Brown has worked judiciously to design and implement a new model for outreach to the schools and in the process has strengthened the reputation of the Black Voice Foundation (BVF) as a Professional Development Organization.
“We work with schools to increase parent engagement and professional development of the educators.” This is primarily accomplished through a week long experiential learning program rooted in the underground-railroad experience. BVF is currently working to define the most effective way to translate that powerful experience to the classroom.
“This was our most successful year in the 19 years we’ve offered the experience,” Brown shared recently and added, “We had over 100 participants from 5 different school districts.”
According to Brown at least 850 teachers have participated in the program since its inception. If you consider each teacher touches an average of 150 students per school year, the impact of the program on the lives of teachers and students is monumental. According to Brown, this program has yielded the foundation’s greatest overall impact on the community.
Another area of significant influence and community impact championed by BVF is the Black History Exhibit. The foundation displays the exhibit in public and charter classrooms, at museums, community colleges, universities and the state capital during the annual Black History quarter.
The Exhibit consists of over 2000 artifacts donated to the foundation over the years and includes items from West Africa and the Civil Rights Era; Ebony and Jet magazines; and, newspapers from the era of Reconstruction among other items. Viewing the items is an opportunity of a lifetime for students and others who share the experience.
Looking toward the future, Hardy is committed to continuing to grow the tour. “We are looking at bringing students into the work that we are doing,” he shared. Although the Foundation is receiving requests to participate in the program from around the state and the country, “Right now, we really want to do excellent in the Inland Empire,” he confided. In other words, “We want to be good at what we’re good at,” he added.
Hardy stressed how the Foundation is keenly focused on history, education and art. “We really look at the needs of the community. “We want to make sure we are providing premiere services in a way that we can measure our success.”
BPC’s focus on art is magnified by Hindsight Productions. Under the creative vision and stewardship of UCR Professor Rickerby M. Hinds the objectives of Hindsight Productions is to enhance the mission and goals of BPC by building on a foundation of excellence in the media and advocacy for those who may not have a voice.
According to Hinds, the target market for Hindsight Productions is anyone interested in great storytelling. “Because of my use of elements of hip-hop culture, my work often appeals most to people who like hip-hop or who have been influenced by this cultural expression,” Hinds shared.
However, his organization’s work has a much broader appeal as demonstrated by the company’s most recent and successful tour of Eastern Europe last May and June. The company was well received in Romania, Turkey, Poland and Hungary.
Hindsight Productions has already established a track-record of success. In addition to its acclaimed Eastern European tour, its play, Straight From Tha Underground, was named by the National Parks Service as part of the National Network to Freedom. The organization also received a $140,000 grant to work with Inland Empire youth on issues of empowerment. In addition, it was the first, Hip-Hop Theater production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with Buckworld One in 2009; winner of the Best Directing for Dreamscape at the Atlanta Black Theater Festival in 2014; and the play, Dreamscape, was selected as a participant in the Los Angeles Theater Center’s Encuentro 2015.
Looking toward the future in the short-term, the company plans to continue creating and touring works for the stage. It is currently working on three new productions, Barren, Look Daddy and third generation entrepreneur, Alexander Hinds’ production Legend. It is also in pre-production for its first film based on the play, Dreamscape. In the long-term, the Hindsight Productions hopes to establish a company in the Inland Empire that will not only create amazing performances, but that will also be able to employ members of the local community.
There is no doubt, in addition to the Black church, African American newspapers have wielded the strongest institutional influence on the lives of Black Americans than any other entity. They continue to play major roles in stabilizing communities; are key advocates and warriors in ongoing battles against injustice; they are educators on issues related to health care, education, art and economics. There is no doubt they are the watchers, the guardians, the keepers of histories, the markers of legacies, and the all powerful voice of the voiceless.
It is in this proud tradition that The Voice under the auspices of the Brown Publishing Company, now BPC Media, celebrates another year of serving.