MEMPHIS, TN — The national Black journalistic community, as well as the city of Memphis, was stunned, saddened and shocked by the sudden passing Sunday of the New Tri-State Defender’s president and publisher Bernal E. Smith, II. Only 45, Smith was impressive as a civic leader and activist prior to taking over the New Tri-State Defender’s publishing duties and presidency in 2010.
“The New Tri-State Defender and its management board is devastated,” was contained in a joint statement issued by the paper’s associate publisher Karanja Ajanaku and Calvin Anderson, president of Best Media, the Defender’s parent company. “ We extend our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to his family. We ask that all take note of the family’s request for privacy at this time.”
Smith played a key role in the paper’s becoming locally owned in 2013. Prior to that, it had been owned by Real Times Media. His fiscal savvy came from his background as a partner in Olympic Financial Services, a firm whose services ranged from tax preparation to credit counseling and short-term loans. Besides being a Rhodes College graduate and holder of a masters in business administration from Union University, Smith achieved national distinction for his work as president of the 100 Black Men of Memphis, Inc.
He was devoted to mentoring Black youth, and insistent that the New Tri-State Defender’s coverage spotlight positive acitvities in the Black community, focusing on achievements and milestones rather than stereotypes and negative image stories. Politicians and city leaders echoed their shock, and discussed the impact of his passing. Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland said “Smith was a tireless advocate for economic and social justice in Memphis. I greatly respected his voice in our city. Our prayers are with his family.”
Rosetta Miller Perry, Publisher of the Tennessee Tribune Newspaper speaking on behalf of the publishers of Southeastern Region 2 of the National Newspaper Publishers Association said: “Bernal is gone from our sight, but never from our hearts and words cannot even begin to express our sorrow”
From Region 2 publishers to his devoted wife, Towanda Smith and 3 children, Brianna 23, Bryndon 18 and Braylon 13, our hearts are saddened by your loss and our thoughts and prayers are with you.
Southeastern Region 2 of the National Newspaper Publishers Association will establish the Bernal E. Smith II memorial scholarship which will be awarded to a college student majoring in journalism.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, said that the entire NNPA family of African-American publishers across the nation deeply mourns Smith’s death.
NNPA Chairman Dorothy R. Leavell issued a statement on behalf of the Black press.
“It is with deep regrets that I announce the passing of NNPA Second Vice Chairman Bernal E. Smith II, 45, publisher of the New Tri-State Defender in Memphis. He made his sudden transition this past Sunday. He had previously served as a member of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Board of Directors.
The visitation will be held at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church at 620 Parkrose Road, Memphis, TN on Thursday October 26th, 2017 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The funeral will take place at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church at 620 Parkrose Road, Memphis, TN on Friday October 27, 2017 at noon.