From Detroit ’92 to Detroit ’18: 26 years of changes to NABJ and the Motor City

Filmmaker Spike Lee on Thursday speaks at the NABJ convention in Detroit. He showed film clips from "Malcolm X."

NABJ Monitor


DETROIT —For the first time in 26 years, the National Association of Black Journalists is back in Detroit.

The last time convention was hosted in Detroit was in 1992. That year, when Bill Clinton became president, the NABJ Convention in Detroit had a lot to anticipate. There also were significant issues for black journalists.

The 1982 convention was also held in Detroit.

“The NABJ Convention in Detroit in 1992 fought and is still pushing to get black men and women journalists into the newsrooms and even more so into management,” said Vince McCraw, who is the current president of the Detroit Chapter of NABJ.

Since her own time as president of the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, Vickie Thomas, who is now Region II director, has gone great lengths to bring the convention back to the evolving city. For Thomas, the convention returning to Detroit was pivotal for the chapter and Detroit as a whole.

“Detroit gets a bad reputation, and that reputation has lingered with the crime and our numbers were high. We were murder capital of the world at one point,” Thomas said. “People just have not seen what’s been happening in Detroit. And I think that carries over even into NABJ, that people didn’t think a convention would do well here.

“I think that the buzz about Detroit and the ‘New Detroit,’—if you will— the comeback city was resonating and people really wanted to check out Detroit,” she continued. “I think once we got them here that they see from a national standpoint for our conventions that we could do well.”

Thomas said she hopes for the convention to do outstanding numbers like the two previous conventions in New Orleans and Washington, D.C., and she believes that NABJ in Detroit could break records.

Thomas said that this year’s strong convention numbers represent a huge turnaround for the Detroit chapter, since the 2006 convention that was initially expected to take place in Detroit was moved to Indianapolis instead. Thomas said she feared that year almost killed NABJ’s Detroit chapter.

“Lingering tensions even at the national level for those folks that were involved kind of made them shy away from even considering Detroit,” Thomas said. “It was my mission to say, ‘Look at 1992. We had an awesome convention, and this time around we are up there with the best of the cities.’”

Far from the struggling year of 2006, NABJ President Sarah Glover said she was ecstatic about how NABJ has evolved for the Detroit chapter and is creating massive buzz with the convention.

“As an organization, we’re going through a renaissance‒if you will‒of our own, and the city of Detroit is going through its renaissance,” Glover said. “We know that through history things continue to improve and we look at how we’ve grown.

“Organizationally, we expect over 3,000 journalists to come through the Motor City this year. And that’s remarkable.”

McCraw said he hope this year’s convention will leave a tremendous impression for Detroit.

“There is a new narrative that the journalists who spend the week here will see Detroit with fresh eyes,” McCraw said. “I’m glad NABJ has finally returned, and people will see a city that’s on the resurgence.”

This story has been updated to reflect that the NABJ convention has been hosted in Detroit in 1982, 1992 and 2018.

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