United States Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) received the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA) 2018 Newsmaker of the Year Award, during a recent ceremony on Capitol Hill.
The NNPA is a trade group that represents more than 200 Black-owned media companies that reach more than 20 million readers in print and online every week.
Dozens of NNPA member publishers traveled to Washington, D.C. to celebrate Black Press Week.
“The theme of this year’s Black Press Week is ‘Celebrating 191 Years of the Black Press of America: Publishing Truth to Empower,’” according to a press release about the gathering. “Black publishers, media professionals, civil rights leaders and lawmakers from across the country attend the annual event.”
Harris, a graduate of Howard University and the University of California Hastings College of Law, is the second African American woman senator in U.S. history.
“My friend and fellow freedom fighter and heroine should be honored and I’m so proud to be here to present this award,” said NNPA Foundation Chair and San Francisco Sun Reporter publisher Amelia Ashley-Ward.
Ashley-Ward said that she remembered when Senator Harris was campaigning to become the district attorney in San Francisco, more than a decade ago. When the race got tough, Ashley-Ward said that the Black community and the Black Press rallied around Harris.
“The Sun Reporter rented a cable car. We put some powerful women leaders on that cable car with you,” Ashley-Ward said, speaking directly to Harris. “We took you all over the city…you told your story, you were running against the White establishment…Kamala won handily in that race and she’s been on a meteoric rise, since then.”
As San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris worked to, “reduce recidivism by offering nonviolent, low-level drug trafficking defendants job training and other life skills education as an alternative to jail,” according to The Los Angeles Times. Her office reported that during the first two years of the program, “less than 10 percent of those who graduated from the program were reoffenders — compared to 53 percent of drug offenders statewide who returned to prison or jail within two years of release.”
As California’s Attorney General, Harris, “joined other state attorneys general in brokering a $25-billion nationwide settlement deal with the nation’s five largest mortgage institutions for improper foreclosure practices during the recent housing market crash,” The Los Angeles Times reported.
During a recent Judiciary Committee hearing, Harris, “criticized President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers…following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., saying it doesn’t make sense,” The Hill reported. Harris also praised students who have risen up to push lawmakers to enact new gun safety measures.
Ashley-Ward encouraged attendees to read Harris’ biography online before adding: “The real reason you are who are is because you didn’t forget where you came from.”
Dorothy Leavell, the chairman of the NNPA and publisher of the Crusader Newspapers in Chicago and Gary, Ind., called 2018 “the year of the woman.”
Leavell said that to honor Harris as the Newsmaker of the Year was just another one of the perks of being the chairman of the NNPA.
“We are proud of you and we are with you and all of our Congressional Black Caucus members,” said Leavell, speaking directly to Harris.
The junior United States Senator said that she was “incredibly honored” to accept the award, particularly from Ashley-Ward and the Black Press, whom she acknowledged as truth tellers and guardians of information.
“This is a room full of leaders,” Harris told the crowd gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building. “And, when you can connect your past to your present and have those connections remain strong, it’s very empowering.”
In a powerful 12-minute acceptance speech, Harris spoke of the importance of unifying a nation divided by racism and classism.
Harris said that it’s important to understand that “we all come from somewhere and it’s important that we remember from whence we came.”
The Black Press best represents the vehicle in which real and important stories can and have been told, Harris said.
“The Sun Reporter and all the Black newspapers know that the best way our voices can be heard is when we use our voices to tell our stories instead of leaving others to tell it,” she said. “The Black press always played a role in making sure that our community has something it can trust.”
Harris, raised in Oakland, Calif., made history when she became, “the first woman, the first African American and first Indian American in California history to be elected state attorney general,” when she defeated Steve Cooley in the 2010 election, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) praised Harris as someone who hasn’t taken her eyes off the prize—she see’s the big picture, he said.
“The U.S. Senate used to be a billionaire’s club, a boy’s club, a White man’s club,” said Richmond. “Now we have a strong woman, a [strong individual in the Senate] and it’s important that our kids see someone that they can be like.”
Harris said America is at a crossroads.
“This is an inflection moment. It’s similar to when my parents met, as they were active in the Civil Rights Movement,” Harris said. “This is a moment to fight for who we are, to fight for the spirit behind and the principle behind the words from 1776 that we all should be treated equal.”
Harris continued: “Charlottesville made it obvious that racism is real in this country. We have inequities based on race, gender and socio-economic standing. Let’s speak the truth.”
Harris said that the country needs to confront the disparities that exist in our educational system and reform our criminal justice system.
The senator, who took office in 2017, said she believes in America and that Americans can do better.
“I can’t think of a moment in time when it’s been more important than ever to support the Black Press,” said Harris. “Especially, in the face of powerful voices trying to sow hate and dissention in this country.”
In an effort to combat that hate and dissension and spread love and unity, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, announced that the NNPA has partnered with the NAACP to register more than 5 million new Black voters in 2018.
“Come November, we’re going to have the largest Black voter turnout in American history,” said Dr. Chavis, to the applause of the crowd gathered for the Newsmaker of the Year ceremony. “This is a payback year!”