The best place to communicate with Fresno’s African American community is in the pages of its newspaper, The California Advocate, said Publisher Mark Kimber.
Kimber, along with six pastors, spoke in support of the African American newspaper, which is struggling financially, at a news conference at the newspaper’s office on Thursday morning. Thirty other pastors pledged their support for the paper, and 12 churches committed to begin buying ads multiple times a year.
Kimber said the weekly newspaper was recently assessed with a lien for back taxes owed on printing machinery. He said the taxes were overlooked due to the 2015 death of his father, Les Kimber, who founded the newspaper nearly 50 years ago and was contesting the taxes. The lien culminated in The Advocate’s office lease payments being absorbed by the paper’s financial institution, Kimber said.
After that, Kimber said, they could have satisfied themselves with half a century of work and started shutting down. “What we as a family decided to do was gear up,” he said.
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That means reinvestment by black clergy and the rest of Fresno’s African American community. Kimber said the paper’s readership still wants a print edition. His family started an online fundraiser on GoFundMe with a goal of $40,000. He also hopes for 1,000 new or renewed subscriptions by Friday. Subscriptions cost $40 a year.
The Advocate has 18 employees, and is at 1555 E St. in downtown Fresno. The circulation is 28,000 copies weekly. The Advocate hasn’t printed since July. But plans are to start up again at the end of October, printing twice a month and eventually returning to weekly publication.
Kimber said the history of the black press goes back to the days of slavery with Frederick Douglas and Ida B. Wells. The community continues to look to the black press for crucial information, he said, adding that it’s important for cultural media from all communities to exist.
“We’ve been covering police brutality for many years,” he said. “Now the general media is picking up on stories that we’ve almost only been covering in our papers. And that’s a good thing.”
Some of the paper’s biggest issues each year are on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., black history, black graduates and election endorsements. Kimber said the latter issue – which will be published in October – is particularly important because other ethnic media don’t endorse candidates. He said some voters even take that issue with them to the polls.
The Rev. Paul Binion of Westside Church of God urged local candidates to advertise in The Advocate if they want to reach African American voters.
The Rev. Booker T. Lewis of Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church called The Advocate one of Fresno’s “legendary institutions.” He said it’s part of the heritage of black churches to be concerned about the welfare of families and businesses in their community.
“We are honored to be in partnership and collaboration with The Advocate in this way,” he said. “We strayed away from that for several years, and that’s no one’s fault, but it did come to light over the past couple of weeks.”
The Rev. D.J. Criner of Saint Rest Baptist Church said that in many communities, there is a separation between churches and businesses. But he said the African American community is a family.
“When the African American community needs to be heard, if no one else will hear us, the California Advocate will do so,” he said.