CHICAGO, Ill.–More than 200 National Newspaper Publishers Association members who gathered at Chicago’s legendary Drake Hotel saw the torch of Black press excellence passed to a new, younger generation in the person of Arizona legislator, the Honorable Clovis Campbell Jr., publisher of the Arizona Informant.

The publishers, meeting June 22-24, also entered a discussion on the future of the Black press and observed another discussion between noted civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and Yale Professor Cornel West, Ph.D., on the state of Blacks during the Obama administration. On Thursday, June 23, awards for journalistic excellence were handed out.

Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of the Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, kicked off the three-day conference with a talk on the historic relevance of the relationship between the pulpit and the press. Haynes retold the history of Blacks in the United States, pointing out the valiant role as herald that the press has traditionally played in the African American community.

The NNPA made history when it was announced that a partnership agreement between the Nielsen Co. and the NNPA had been fashioned that will produce an annual report entitled the NNPA-Nielsen State of the African American Consumers Report. The first release of the report will occur later this year at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Conference in Washington, D.C.

The report will offer quantitative data on African American’s shopping habits and spending power.

It will be spearheaded by Cheryl McNeil-Pearson, vice president of Public Affairs, who said that over the next three years the report will be issued in September at the CBC conference and will provide America with a snapshot of the African American consumer. “This is a first for Nielsen,” said McNeil-Patterson, “and we’re very excited because we’ve never ever done anything like this before, but [we] understand the importance of having this information available.”

NNPA corporate partners representing Ford, GM, Nielsen and Wells Fargo attended the Chicago conference and participated in a conversation on the future of these partnerships.

Nationally syndicated journalist George Curry moderated a discussion with some of America’s leading advertising agencies specializing in marketing to the African American consumer, including Burrell Communications, Carol H. Williams Advertising, Flowers Communications, GlobalHue, and Uniworld Group.

Sharpton, founder of the National Action Network, addressed the issue of unity among African American leaders as well their responsibility to work with the Black press to ensure that Black America is kept aware and engaged in the struggle for equality.

Later, Sharpton and West sat down before a standing-room-only crowd for a conversation on the state of Blacks under the Obama administration moderated by journalist George Curry and streamed live on the Internet.

Other leaders in attendance at the NNPA conference included Dr. Charles J. Ogletree, who moderated a discussion on Black leadership that included the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., Sharpton, West and other Ph.D.s, including Maulana Karenga, Benjamin Chavis and Michael Eric Dyson.

Entertainment at the NNPA Legacy of Excellence Dinner and Awards was provided by the Temptations. Trumpet Awards founder Xernona Clayton and Miami Times publisher Garth C. Reeves were honored.

The NNPA hosted its annual Merit Awards for publishing and editorial excellence. This year’s winners included The Miami Times for General Excellence, the New Pittsburgh Courier received the Robert S. Abbott Best Editorial Award, and the Final Call’s Akbar Muhammad took home the Emory O. Jackson Best Column Writing award.

On Friday, the publishers voted on a new board of directors and executive committee, and Campbell was named the new chairman.

The NNPAs other elected officers included the Atlanta Inquirer’s John Smith, first vice chair; Mollie Finch Belt, publisher of the Dallas Examiner, second vice chair; Cleretta Blackmon of the Mobile Beacon in Alabama, secretary, and Yvonne Coleman, publisher of the Louisville Defender, treasurer. Each executive committee officer will serve two years.

Dorothy R. Leavell, NNPA Foundation chair, told the convention that she had concerns as to “whether Clovis [Campbell] was mature enough to handle the position.”

“But my doubts vanished when I first heard him speak,” she said. “Clovis showed us older publishers that he has respect for us and our history. In Clovis, I see the wisdom that he has learned from being involved with NNPA and the vigor and energy that comes with being a young man with fresh legs … I pledge my full support to him.”

For more highlights from NNPAs annual conference, please log onto www.nnpa.org.