By Deidre Montague
20th-century journalist and activist Marcus Garvey once said, “A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.”
This describes the importance of the NABJ Archives Project, as it looks to showcase the groundwork and accomplishments of members through the 45-plus years.
Morgan State University Professor Wayne Dawkins is NABJ’s official historian. He has worked to gather all the artifacts to put this project together.
The project started last fall, when NABJ President Dorothy Tucker called him.
The pair had talked about an archive project for a number of years. But not much of anything was done. With Dawkins’ 25 years of experience in journalism and 15 in academia, Tucker saw him as the right candidate.
Dawkins’ task was to find the right archive company for the job. He chose Heritage Works. Dawkins has been working on the archive much of this summer and is almost done organizing the artifacts and getting it in a digital format.
Along with putting together the NABJ Archives Project, Dawkins has also published three books, two about Black journalists, which focus on the history of the organization and the successes and challenges that founders persevered through.
“Those founders represent history in American mainstream journalism,” he said. “At least one-third of those founders have now died and the youngest founders are in their late 60s,” he said.
“It’s important that you get to know these folks now, while they’re still with us,” he said. “And just how the organization grew from a group that brought 300 to a conference in the early days, but now easily attracts over 3,000.”
One of the founders, Joe Davidson, talked about the pride that he and other founders have felt about the overall growth of the organization.
“We feel very proud, you know, to have been a part of this from the beginning,” Davidson said. “We feel like it’s our child.”
NABJ Executive Director Drew Berry agreed that the NABJ Archives Project is needed to preserve the group’s history. “This is an ongoing project, but we want to get the really critical information from many, many years ago, before it’s lost forever.”
When Davidson was asked about how current NABJ members could honor the founders and the legacy that they have built, he encouraged members to continue to do the work.
“I think the best way to honor us is to do the work that NABJ is designed and set out to do: to be vigorous in its advocacy for Black journalists’ coverage of African American people and African people, generally, and to be vigorous in that advocacy, to really encourage young journalists take part in mentoring programs and student projects,” he said.
Davidson added that NABJ needs to continue developing and strengthening relationships between journalists and Black-oriented media and white-dominated media.
Berry suggested other ways that current members could honor the mission of the founders while working toward a better future for Black journalists.
“Members need to stay committed to the mission, advocating for Black journalists and keeping their skills up to date,” he said. “And when you do get these positions, excel. Don’t take those positions for granted …. and with that knowledge, bring in others.”