It was with great sorrow that I read that the Bay State Banner has suspended publication. In an article buried in the Boston Globe on page B9, “Bay State Banner suspends publication as revenue falls.” (Here is the link to the article in the Herald, “Bay State Banner Suspends Publication.”
Mel Miller, publisher and founder of the Banner, is quoted as saying that the suspension is because of “financial reasons.” The reporter goes on to state that he didn’t say how long the suspension would last, leaving the idea that it may only be temporary. (I sure hope this is the case.)
I have linked to the Banner several times on this blog. It is an essential institution for the African-American community in Greater Boston, crucial to covering events about Black Boston that go beyond the sensationalism of the other major dailies, and consistent in its reportage of positive stories both big and small that show the breadth of concerns, events and activities within Black Boston. This coverage was important to all ethnic groups in Boston because it showed them a side of the Black populace of the city that the Globe and Herald rarely touched and a perspective that they didn’t usually offer.
I first came to know the Banner when I was a 19 year-old college student looking to write about the arts. Kay Bourne, then the arts reporter for the Banner, welcomed me with open arms and gave me an opportunity to review plays. I went on to review books and publish interviews with several people the most famous of whom was Toni Morrison.
In those days, the Banner was located in the heart of the Dudley Business District at 25 Ruggles Street. I would see the formidable though personable Mr. Miller, rolling up his sleeves to get the paper out. I remember meeting the late, great reporter, Luix Overbea, there. After a hiatus when my daughter was first born, I returned to submitting reviews to the Banner and helped publicize many a Black novel and Black/multicultural children’s books. In the late 70s and early 80s, I could pretty much read everything that was published by Black fiction and children’s authors.
Ads in the Banner led me to three jobs, including the highlight of my career (thus far), directorship of ACT Roxbury. The Banner has been a supporting factor in my work and I’ve read it unfailingly each week.
The meaning of the Banner and the work of the Banner is not easily summed up so I will give this list, which I know is incomplete:
- It covered emerging and mature, known and unknown Black achievers of international, national and local visibility.
- It covered local events, enabling the individuals and institutions who produced these events and activities to have clips to support their funding applications and record that they’d happened.
- It allowed community residents to see that their lives, activities, and opinions had meaning by covering weddings, luncheons, graduations, scholarships, academic and career achievements.
- It provided a mirror on the community’s view of itself by covering the spectrum of community activities instead of merely focusing on the sensational, the violence and poverty that other news outlets were prone to do. (Doing research for Discover Roxbury a year or so ago, I looked at dozens of week’s of Banner coverage that provided me with a perspective on the busing crisis and the riots that were ignored or glossed over by the other papers.)
- It was the place for community organizations, non-community organizations, entertainers, the arts community, social service organizations, etc., to get the word out about events, activities, grants, jobs, etc.
Publishing a newspaper week-after-week is a grueling undertaking even if you are well resourced. For a publication that is under-resourced like the Banner, it requires blood, sweat, tears, ingenuity, business acumen, determination, stubbornness, an understanding how crucial it is to have Blacks at the helm of their own media, and love. All of these are attributes that Mel Miller has. Making a weekly payroll is no mean feat. Having a business that provides jobs and internship opportunities was admirable.I don’t know how deep the sacrifices Mel and his family have made to keep the paper going for 44 years, but I know they made some. They had to..
There’s an old saying that comes to mind – “All goodbye, ain’t gone.” I hope this is the case with the Banner. I hope that an investor or buyer comes quickly to purchase this paper. We all know that the traditional newspaper is under assault because of the changing nature of how the public gets their news. The Banner going away has even more important for Boston’s Black community. There is simply no one to replace what the Banner has done.
Boston has an unfortunate track record of losing businesses and institutions that are never replaced or become shadow of their former selves. (For more on this, see my blog post: Boston’s Black on Black Crime.)
I am proud to have supported the Banner as it has supported me. I supported it by – writing for it (as a volunteer), advertising in it (including having 5 editions of the Roxbury is Rich Holiday Shopping Guide insert in its pages), getting businesses to carry it, and getting other business and organizations to advertise in it.
I am in serious mourning at the Banner’s suspension of services and I hope for a resurrection. Meanwhile, I offer this post as a tiny way of saying thanks for being.