After nearly six decades, the founder, publisher, and editor of the Bay State Banner has stepped down from the helm of Boston’s African American-focused weekly newspaper.
Melvin B. Miller, 88, has sold the newspaper to two new owners, both Black: former WBZ-TV videojournalist Ron Mitchell, who stepped down from his role at the station last week, and filmmaker André Stark.
“I’m an old man, and while I think that there’s still a lot to of work to be done to remove some of the racial problems in Boston, I think it’s time for somebody else to do the work,” said Miller in a phone interview from the Banner’s Dorchester office.
Miller, who grew up in Roxbury, said Mitchell and Stark, who both also hail from Roxbury families, approached him about a year ago to inquire about taking over the paper. Mitchell, 61, will be the Banner’s publisher and editor, while Stark, 63, will become chief operating officer and produce video content for an expanded website, according to an article from the Banner announcing the leadership change.
“They all grew up reading the Banner, so it’s not like an alien document has been put in their hands,” said Miller. “We’ll see how they handle it, and I’m going to be helping and assisting in any way I can.”
Miller launched the Banner in 1965, to cover Boston’s Black communities and their role in the city’s political, economic, and artistic landscapes. When it was founded, the fight for civil rights was in full throttle, and the Banner explored educational disparities between mostly white areas of Hyde Park and the largely Black Bowdoin-Geneva section of Dorchester, as well as issues with busing.
“We both are Bostonians, and we both are of color. And we’ve both had our parents reading the Banner before we could really read it ourselves. So we knew it was a paper that was a unique part of the city and New England,” said Stark. “And that’s what motivated us to be a part of it.”
Mitchell, too, said he wanted to take over the Banner because he wanted to help ensure the newspaper’s legacy.
“African American newspapers are an extension of our African heritage going back to Africa, multiple hundred years ago, where the storytellers kept the history of our culture. So the Banner is the modern iteration of that to our culture,” said Mitchell.
The Banner also announced it would be expanding its coverage area and begin publishing four discrete editions: One for Boston, one for Connecticut, one for Rhode Island, and one for northern New England, including Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, with “some content exclusive to each of the four planned editions,” the article said. The new owners also plan to ramp up “print distribution in news boxes in the Bay State as well in the other regional markets.”
“We wanted to expand the news to New England, because it’s pretty much the only Black newspaper in New England,” said Stark. “There’s people in Providence, there’s people in New Haven, there’s people in other parts of New England that have salient new stories concerning communities of color that we wanted to reach.”
Former Boston Globe and WGBH editor Kenneth Cooper will serve as an editorial consultant to advise on the print expansion, and Banner senior editor Yawu Miller (who is Melvin B. Miller’s nephew) will “stay on to continue managing the paper’s Boston edition,” the Banner article said.
The Banner’s online presence will also see a makeover under the guidance of Colin Redd, the business development manager for Blavity, a media company focusing on Black millennials. The goal, said Stark, is to make the Banner more digital-friendly and bring in a new generation of readers.
“It’s not just going to be a place to read the paper anymore. It’s going to be a community resource,” said Mitchell.
Redd said the paper is currently looking for both regional and national sponsors, and plans to work with some of their partners to create custom video content, such as student workshops.
”Historically, the Banner has been just a print paper, and we’re trying to expand that so much and allow for readers and the content to be seen all over,” said Redd. “There’s much that we want to do, but we don’t want to lose sight of the community aspect of it.”
The terms of the sale are not being disclosed, but Black-led community development financial institution Mill Cities Community Investments supplied financing for the deal, in addition to private investments from other prominent local African American individuals, said Mitchell.
In his retirement, Miller said he hopes to write a follow-up book to his 2018 title, “Boston’s Banner Years: 1965-2015: A Saga of Black Success,” about growing up in Roxbury and the tenacity of the neighborhood.
“I know the job isn’t done, and I don’t feel that there’s any more that I could have done,” he said. “I know it’s time.”