S. E. Williams
For forty-four years The Voice/Black Voice News has worked to expand its sphere of influence while at the same time remained true to its core values of advocacy journalism in a way that informs, inspires and engages communities in the inland region.
The newspaper’s publishers and staff have strived to fulfill the challenge dispensed centuries ago by leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, scientist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat Benjamin Franklin who said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” For forty-four years, the publication has strived and succeeded at doing both.
In 1980, the Brown Family, led by Hardy and Cheryl Brown, assumed ownership of the paper after the founder UCR student Artis Lilly transferred ownership to community newspaperman Sam Martin. Right away they transitioned the publication to more closely align with their vision. “We changed the focus and how it was delivered,” Mr. Brown shared during an interview on the paper’s 43rd anniversary. “We made it attractive to read.”
Making the paper attractive to read was just the first step in a long journey that has established it as a strong voice for justice in the inland region; yielded numerous awards for reporting, editorials and artistic presentation; and built an expanded, electronic footprint across various segments of new media—all while remaining true to its core constituency. In the years since 1980, the Browns have taken what started as a small community newspaper and with determination, credibility, guidance and wisdom built a dynasty, now nurtured across its various entities to even higher ground by the next generation of Browns.
Under the stewardship of Paulette Brown-Hinds, The Black Voice News has extended its reach and expanded its vision beyond the boundaries of the Inland Empire through Voice Media Ventures, the new parent company of Black Voice News, The IE Voice, Hindsight Productions, BPC Mediaworks, and serving as the administrator for Black Voice Foundation. Business Development and Digital Director Patrick Edgett joined the team in June 2015, and has focused on business development and technology projects with the goal of also increasing revenue from digital ventures. According to Edgett, “The main source of revenue before we diversified was advertising, which is much lower online than it is with print. Where you might charge $2,000 for placement in a paper, the same number of views online might only generate $200,” he explained. “And so, not only do you have to build a platform that you can monetize, but you have to increase your audience exponentially…which is possible, but not overnight.”
Part of the business expansion effort involved its transition to a new era of diversification that includes the establishment of partnerships. “One of the ways to increase our audience is to build partnerships with industry experts and thought leaders,” Edgett stressed. “One of the partnerships we are happy to announce is with the African American Civic Engagement Project (AACEP). Based in Los Angeles, the AACEP is dedicated to understanding African American and urban voters' behavior and increasing their civic engagement through education and electoral participation. The Black Voice News, as a California-focused digital platform, allows us to use our expertise to create different types of content, videos, illustrations, etc., that will help inspire the African American community to increase their civic engagement.”
Another example, is the The IE Voice’s partnership with a national digital company that has created a new advertisement platform for local small businesses and community based organizations, Edgett explained, “It will help our advertisers gain traction not only through their specific ad, but by also by increasing their Google ranking.”
According to Edgett, Voice Media Ventures is bringing many of the family’s creative projects under one moniker and is also investing in creative projects of all types of media. “One of our first two major investments was in blackvoicenews.com and revamping its digital platform. The other is in the film, My Name is Myeisha via Hindsight Productions. We are excited that it is was created by a local team and will be shot locally as well.”
The dramatic production company, Hindsight Productions, under the creative vision and stewardship of Rickerby M. Hinds, has experienced an extraordinarily successful year that will culminate in the production the movie My Name is Myeisha. The movie adapted by Rickerby Hinds and Gus Krieger who is also the director, is currently in pre-production and is set to begin shooting in October in the Inland Empire. The play, written in 2005 based on the shooting of Tyisha Miller in 1998 by Riverside police officers, continues to be extremely relevant in light of recent events between the police and the Black community. “Dreamscape has been on tour for the past five years throughout the United States as well as Europe (Hungary, Romania, Turkey), with a return to Poland this past June at the invitation of MESEA (The Society for Multi-Ethnic Studies: Europe and the Americas),” Hinds shared.
Also according to Hinds, “The role of the Black Voice News in the development of Dreamscape as well as My Name is Myeisha cannot be understated. It was only because of the insistence of former publishers Hardy and Cheryl Brown in writing about the shooting on a weekly basis that the incident became a national story.” He continued, “The subsequent protests placed the focus of the nation on Riverside and the Inland Empire. This led to the formation of a citizens’ oversight committee, the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability, which has been a significant step in bettering the relationship between the police and Black community.”
Hindsight Productions also saw the beginning of its Arts in the Schools initiative in conjuction with Black Voice Foundation. “Los Angeles Unified School District’s Dorsey High School was the site where John “Faahz” Merchant worked as an official Community Arts Partner (CAP) introducing students to Hip-Hop Theater for the second half of the academic year,” Hinds explained. “Due to the success of the program at Dorsey High, we have been selected to continue as a partner for the upcoming academic year with the possibility of making the Hip-Hop Theater program an ongoing part of the Los Angeles Unified School District.”
This year also saw Hinds become a Fulbright Scholar to Honduras, his country of birth. He has spent the last three months in the capital, Tegucigalpa, at the campus of the National University, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH), working with faculty members and students toward the establishment of a stronger relationship between the UNAH and UC Riverside as well as the two countries through the arts. An agreement between the two universities’ student as well as faculty exchanges will be possible with the goal of strengthening both institutions through these efforts. Hinds’ Fulbright activities will culminate in a Honduran tour of both the original as well as a bilingual version of Dreamscape in August. The cast will be made up of an actress from Honduras – Jesse Sandoval Hernandez and John “Faahz” Merchant—the hope is to bring the tour to the United States in 2017.
In general, educational outreach is facilitated through Black Voice Foundation. Over eight years ago, Hardy Brown II assumed stewardship of the Black Voice Foundation, an outgrowth of Hardy and Cheryl Brown’s break-through outreach efforts to educate students and others about the careers available in print media and educate the community on African-American culture and history. It is one of a very few organizations in the inland region that offer services across both Riverside and San Bernardino school districts.
Since taking the helm, Brown II has redesigned and implemented a new model for school outreach. In addition to providing a great service to the schools, his efforts have truly strengthened the reputation of the Foundation as a professional development organization. This is partly attributed to the Foundation’s engagement of parents and its demonstrated commitment to the professional development of educators. Each year the Foundation facilitates Footsteps to Freedom, a week-long experiential learning program rooted in the underground-railroad experience. The Foundation is currently working with some of the one thousand educators who participated in the tour over its twenty-year history to define the most effective way to translate that powerful experience to the classroom.
The Foundation has also been highly lauded for its Black History Exhibits. Each year, it displays the exhibit in public and charter classrooms, at museums, community colleges, universities and the state capital. The Foundation’s collection consists of over 2000 artifacts donated over the years and includes items from West Africa, Ebony and Jet magazines from the Civil Rights era, newspapers from the Reconstruction era, among other items. At its core, the Foundation has a deep commitment to history, education and the arts.
From the beginning Hardy and Cheryl Brown understood the important role played by the Black media and never shied away for their ability to make a difference. One of the most impactful ways their influence has extended far beyond the boundaries of the Inland Empire is through the nonprofit entity, California Black Media (CBM). Since its inception, CBM has met with several governors, state legislators, mayors and state leaders on issues that concern African- Americans across California.
Regina Brown Wilson took the helm of CBM in 2013 and has expanded the organization’s efforts in news reporting on statewide policy issues that impact African-American communities. The goal is to arm Black communities with information that allow them to act and help shape the policies that govern their lives, Wilson explained. “It’s complex and seems time intensive but it’s my hope that CBM is able to help our communities have unbiased information that allows them to discuss how issues impact them from multiple angles helping to lead to more inclusive public policy creation.”
Back in the Inland region, the influence The IE Voice will have in terms of educating and influencing public opinion in the coming years is expected to continue and expand. “Dr. Paulette Brown-Hinds’ weekly column, Rants and Raves, provides a great glimpse into some of the work we are doing to help form public policy in the region,” Edgett advised. “With the column as a starting point, reaching so many in the region, I see us playing an increased role in economic development and education policy in the region.” In addition to the continued development of relationships within the region, Edgett expressed his confidence they will continue to expand and develop relationships outside the region as well. “Our strategic communications firm BPC Mediaworks, for instance, was instrumental in educating urban communities throughout Southern California and the Central Valley on the state’s new earned income tax credit earlier this year and we continue to assist the League of California Cities with its diversity caucus statewide,” he explained.
At Forty-four, The Black Voice News through its parent company Voice Media Ventures, continues to break new ground while staying true to its mission to educate, inform, and inspire social change.