For the last decade, Dr. Chavis has served as the president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA). NNPA is a trade association of African American owned newspapers and media companies. As a news organization, the NNPA both gathers and reports on social, economic, political, scientific, and education-focused issues. NNPA partners specifically with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase visibility and awareness of US education issues affecting Black Americans. We connected with Dr. Chavis this month and got the chance to ask a few questions about his work.
What does Black History Month mean to you, and how do you reflect on and celebrate Black history and culture?
Today, we represent 196 of the African American owned community newspapers and multimedia companies represented by the NNPA and assert that “Black History” is “American History.” Black History Month for the Black Press means that the month of February of each year is designated to focus on the true factual history of African Americans in the U.S. and throughout the world. We achieve this by highlighting the outstanding excellence and achievements of African Americans to American and world history, as well as the culture and overall societal progress even in the context of having overcome centuries of racial oppression, slavery, institutionalized systemic racism, poverty, and economic discrimination.
What is the single most impactful thing we need to do in the education field to empower Black students in school and beyond?
The single most impactful thing that needs to be done in the education field to empower Black students in school and beyond to offer consistent national, regional, and local educational equitable funding. This ensures the delivery of effective, efficient, transparent, transformative, and highest quality public education opportunities to African American families and communities, and other communities of color across the nation.
Can you tell us about a role model or a Black leader who inspires you and your work?
My role model and inspiration is my third great-grandfather, The Reverend John Chavis (1763-1838). He was an educator and American Patriot, and native of Granville County, North Carolina where my family has lived for over 270 years. John Chavis was the first African America to attend what is now known as Princeton University and was the first African American to be ordained a Presbyterian minister in the United States in southern Virginia and North Carolina. John set up a school in Raleigh, NC for white and Black students in the early 1800s. Some of his students became U.S. Senators and other leaders in NC. After the Nat Turner Slave Insurrection in 1831, the states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia passed state legislative laws banning teaching Blacks to read and write as felony offenses under the law. However, John continued to teach white students in Raleigh after 1831. In 1838, when it was discovered that John Chavis had set up an underground school of Black slaves in Granville County, NC, he was subsequently beaten to death as punishment for teaching Black slaves to read and to write. Thus, today the memory and legacy of John Chavis serves as a role model for education during Black History Month.
Can you tell us about your experience as a youth coordinator working alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and the impact that has on your work today?
Working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr from 1963-1968 as statewide youth coordinator in North Carolina for Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was a career-changing and life-changing experience for me. I was a chemistry major as I completed my undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina and worked as an organic chemist while simultaneously working for Dr. King and SCLC. But when Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, I decided on that day to accept my calling to the Christian ministry and enroll for seminary graduate education. I have dedicated my life to keeping Dr. King’s dream alive for freedom, justice, and equality for all people.