The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) orchestrated a transformative Town Hall between Black and Jewish leaders at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, creating a pivotal moment during the trade association’s 2024 Midwinter Training Conference. The NNPA is a trade association representing the more than 250 African-American-owned newspapers and media companies that comprise the original Black Press of America.
The objective of the Town Hall was to delve into and fortify the relationship between Blacks and Jews in America, an initiative conceived well before the October 7 attack in Israel by Hamas. The event explored historical connections in the Black-Jewish relationship and laid the foundation for ongoing dialogue and collaboration, which NNPA President/CEO (and event moderator) Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. called a beacon of unity in the face of rising hate.
Bobby Henry, the charismatic NNPA Chair and Westside Gazette publisher, set the stage, emphasizing the urgent need to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in Florida. Recognizing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and state GOP lawmakers’ divisive stance towards various communities, Henry said he respected the decision of other organizations to boycott Florida but said: “The Black Press will continue to call out injustice no matter where it is.”
“In 2027, the Black Press will celebrate its 200th anniversary,” Henry said. “The Jewish community gave Freedom’s Journal financial support to help start that newspaper.”
Panelist and U.S. Democratic Rep. Deborah Wasserman Schultz echoed the sentiment, emphasizing personal responsibility in strengthening the relationship between the Black and Jewish communities. Drawing parallels to several historical instances, Schultz said: “Like Jews did when they came down to help in the civil rights; like HBCUs did when in the ‘30s and ‘40s, no universities in America would employ Jewish refugee professors who immigrated from Europe, but HBCUs did. Our fight continues, including the oppression that goes on under this government in this state.”
U.S. Democratic Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick also proved an influential voice in the discussion. The Florida congresswoman highlighted the necessity of coalition-building. She shared a personal experience. “When I was growing up and I had the first opportunity to go to law school, who gave me the opportunity to intern? It was one of my Jewish mentors,” she said. “Somewhere, there’s a disconnect with the generations. It’s going to take a level of intentionality to fight back.”
Max Sevilla, ADL senior vice president of National Affairs, delivered a compelling account of the alarming surge in anti-Semitism. Citing a 300% increase in incidents over the past three months, Sevilla underscored the interconnectedness of hate and the need for collaborative efforts to combat it. “Anti-Semitism today is at record levels,” he said. “Since October 7, what we have measured is alarming. There have been almost 4,500 incidents of anti-Semitism over the past three months, which is a 300% increase.”
Dr. Marvin Dunn, professor emeritus in the Department of Psychology at Florida International University, reflected on his childhood experiences and shared intimate anecdotes about racial dynamics and positive interactions with Jewish individuals. He expressed profound concern about the worsening race relations in the state, particularly under DeSantis. “I’m 83. I served my country in the military, and here we are,” Dunn said. “However bad race relations were in our state, it got worse when DeSantis was made governor. He went further than Trump.”
Chavis concluded the event with a rallying cry, emphasizing the importance of the upcoming elections and the collective responsibility to bring about positive change. We need to get out the most significant vote in history,” Chavis said. “The future of our country is on the ballot. We have work to do.”