Black journalists' convention to drive technology, celebrate Detroit

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News
NABJ President Sarah Glover throws the first pitch at Sunday's Detroit Tigers-Cleveland Indians game at Comerica Park. One of the goals of the NABJ is connecting with the city of Detroit and its residents.

Get ready Detroit. The National Association of Black Journalists roars into town Wednesday with 3,000 savvy, sharp-eyed media professionals in tow. 

It it is the organization’s first convention to visit Detroit since 1992. NABJ was supposed to return in 2006, but Indianapolis ended up with the prize.

As a result, local excitement couldn’t be higher, or enthusiasm for showing off the reviving city.

“It’s absolutely thrilling to have NABJ return to Motown after 26 years,” said Andrew Humphrey, WDIV-TV (Channel 4) meteorologist and a past president of the local Detroit chapter.

“As the birthplace of the middle class, the auto industry and legendary music,” he added, “Detroit deserves to be front and center.”

The organizers of #NABJ18: Driving Journalism, Technology & Trust, as it's titled,  worked hard to make sure the city stays front and center throughout the five-day convention, which the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau estimates will generate almost $11 million in direct spending. 

“We were determined that this convention not be just about NABJ, but also about the city and the public,” said Vickie Thomas, WWJ-AM Newsradio’s city-beat reporter who sits on the NABJ national board as Region II director. 

Detroit Chapter NABJ organizers have scheduled a range of events open to the public, including a “Diversity in the D” Town Hall on Tuesday evening and a Friday evening concert at Chene Park starring Detroit’s hometown R&B legend KEM.

Former NABJ President Will Sutton, left, meets former Detroit Tigers pitcher Dan Petry on Sunday at the Tiger-Cleveland Indians game at Comerica Park. The national NABJ convention will be in Detroit Wednesday-Sunday.

Other big names expected to put in appearances include media mogul Tyler Perry, actor and Detroit native Brandon T. Jackson, R&B singer Bobby Brown, Tony Award-winner Cynthia Erivo and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who will be honored with an NABJ award. Grammy, Dove and Stellar Award-winning singer Vickie Winans will headline Sunday’s Gospel Brunch. 

“The convention is a chance for people who didn’t bother to learn, or didn’t really know, to see all that’s changed in Detroit,” said honorary convention co-chair Rochelle Riley, columnist with the Detroit Free Press. It’s also a great opportunity, she added, to counter “the false narrative about this amazing city and all that’s happened.”

Indeed, anyone who attended in 1992 is likely to be dazzled by the changes when they venture from the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. 

"I'm curious to see reactions when people find they can just step outside the hotel and be right on the RiverWalk," said Thomas, "which is absolutely amazing." 

Planners organized a number of events for conventioneers to get to know the city, including a community-service project, a 5K run/walk/bike event and a “Detroit Passport” program to encourage visits to tourist sites far from RenCen like the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. 

Kyra Azore, a Howard University senior who’s the student representative on the NABJ board, said she’s already convinced. 

The New Orleans native visited in March and liked what she found. “I think Detroit’s really amazing, and I’m excited to go back and spend more time in the city,” Azore said.

To keep those reactions positive, Humphrey engaged nearly 200 volunteers to welcome visitors at Detroit Metro Airport and steer them around Renaissance Center — which, to be frank, can be a little confusing. 

“The Detroit chapter is passionate, organized and deliberate in their planning,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover. “They’ve worked very hard to put a Detroit flavor on the convention.”

Part of what’s driving organizers are bitter memories from 2006, when Detroit had been duly picked to host the convention, only to be dethroned in favor of Indianapolis.

“There were internal politics,” Thomas said by way of explanation, “and they ended up snatching it from Detroit. That nearly killed our chapter.” 

Sheila Neal at the convention bureau, who worked with Thomas and others to win the convention this year, said the one upside of that disappointment was that it redoubled local determination. 

NABJ executive director Drew Berry expresses his delight with the work of volunteers in preparation for the national convention which begins Wednesday.

"When we lost it," Thomas said, "there was a commitment to do everything possible to get it back here."

NABJ is the nation’s largest journalism organization of color. It serves both as networking heaven and something approaching a family reunion. 

It also provides much-needed solidarity during a time of storm and stress in the media. 

“We only get together once a year, so we cling to one another and have a ball, because things are really hard in journalism right now,” said Riley, alluding to both the political climate and shrinking newspapers.

“People work hard, but want to play hard, too,” she said, “and they deserve to.”

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

About the organization

Founded: 1975 by 44 African-American journalists

Headquarters: College Park, Maryland

Members: 3,000-plus

President: Sarah Glover, social media editor, NBCUniversal

National convention: Wednesday-Saturday at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center, Detroit.


Detroit sweeps NABJ recognition

Detroiters and former Detroiters did exceptionally well in this year’s awards. Honorees include: 

Honorary convention co-chairs: Rochelle Riley, columnist, Detroit Free Press; Jemele Hill, senior correspondent and columnist, ESPN’s The Undefeated 

Journalist of the Year: Jemele Hill

Legacy Award: Robert G. McGruder (deceased), executive editor, Detroit Free Press

NABJ Hall of Fame: Albert Dunmore (deceased), managing editor and executive editor, Michigan Chronicle; and Louis Martin (deceased), editor and publisher, Michigan Chronicle.

Journalism Educator of the Year: Alicia Nails, Wayne State University 

Angelo B. Henderson Community Service Award: Rhonda Walker, anchor, WDIV-TV

Visual Task Force Legacy Award: Felecia D. Henderson, assistant managing editor, The Detroit News 

Sports Task Force Journalist of the Year: Rob Parker, analyst, FS1 Los Angeles

Sam Lacy Pioneer Awards Sports Task Force: Spencer Haywood, NBA star, Olympic gold medalist and Pershing High graduate; Lowell Perry (deceased), Ypsilanti native, All-American wide receiver and safety at the University of Michigan and the Pittsburgh Steelers; first African-American coach (receivers) in the NFL; first African American to broadcast an NFL game nationally for CBS.

Select NABJ events open to the public 

6-8 p.m. Tuesday: Diversity In The D, Detroit NABJ Town Hall Forum, City Theatre, 2301 Woodward, Detroit. Free, but online registration suggested.

8-10 p.m. Tuesday: Detroit NABJ Welcome Reception and Fundraiser, Little Caesars Arena, 2645 Woodward, Detroit. Tickets $20

3:45 p.m. Wednesday: Fireside Chat with Dan Gilbert and Dhani Jones. Salon 3 Ballroom, Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. Free 

8 p.m. Friday: An Evening with Kem and Tamar Braxton, benefit for Detroit Chapter NABJ. Chene Park, Detroit. Tickets, $41-$66, available at

11 a.m. Saturday: NABJ Photo Auction, Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. Free.

Noon Saturday: Fiat Chrysler 5K Run, Walk and Bike, Hart Plaza, Detroit. Free but registration required.