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 NNPA Chairperson ‘Sonny’ Messiah-Jiles
Publishers Elect ‘Sonny’ Messiah-Jiles to Lead NNPA
By: Hazel Trice Edney
Originally posted 6/16/2003

BALTIMORE (NNPA)—Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah-Jiles, publisher of the “Houston Defender,” has been elected chairperson of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of more than 200 Black-owned newspapers.
Messiah-Jiles says she aims “to build the respect and to tout the respect and reputation of the Black Press and what it has accomplished in the past and its importance today and how it will play a role in our future.”
“I realize that it [getting elected] is a responsibility and I understand that there are challenges that have to be addressed,” she says. “But I think that with the team of publishers across the country and the talent and the resources that they present and with God’s help, we can get it done.”
Messiah-Jiles was elected last week to a two-year term during the annual NNPA convention in Baltimore. She succeeds John “Jake” Oliver Jr., publisher and chief executive officer of the Afro-American Newspapers. Under new by-laws, the position of president now becomes chairperson, beginning with this year’s election.
Other officers elected were: First Vice President John Smith (Atlanta Inquirer). Second Vice President Denise Rolark-Barnes (Washington Informer), Secretary Elinor Tatum (Amsterdam News) and Treasurer Lenora Carter (Houston Forward Times).
Messiah-Jiles says she will continue to highlight the uniqueness of the Black press.
“What the Black press offers the Black community is a historical record, but aside from that, it serves as a catalyst for change and it also serves as a base of knowledge which allows all of us to operate from the same page,” Messiah-Jiles says. “That can empower us to act, but it also can challenge the powers that be to move in a certain direction.”
The new leader says she will attempt to form a more united voice on key issues that affect the Black community.
In addition, she pledges to strengthen the business and advertising components of the organization. “Of course I have a vision, but what’s important is to listen to what the publishers want and need,” she says.
Messiah-Jiles knows business. She has a master of business administration from Texas Southern University. The NNPA chairperson did her undergraduate study at the University of Houston, where she majored in political science and minored in business economics.
Her plans to become a politician or criminal trial lawyer were forever lost during the summer of 1974 after she signed up for 18 hours of communications courses at the University of Houston.
“That’s when the bug bit,” she laughs.
Prior to purchasing the “Houston Defender” at the age of 27, she worked for a string of radio and television stations in that city, from being a news reporter at KYOK-AM to advertising account executive at KMJQ-FM. She also has been a talk show host on KHOU-TV and KRIV-TV. She serves on the board of the Greater Houston Partnership, a regional business advocacy organization.
A past NNPA publisher of the year, Messiah-Jiles was elected by secret ballot of the association’s members. Her predecessor, John “Jake” Oliver Jr., served two terms and could not succeed himself.
“Jake Oliver has worked miracles and was miraculous in his ability to deal with the finances of the organization,” Messiah-Jiles says in an interview. She praised him for improving the quality of the NNPA news service two years ago by hiring George E. Curry. Curry, a 33-year industry veteran, is the former editor-in-chief of “Emerge: Black America’s Newsmagazine” and a former Washington correspondent and New York bureau chief of the “Chicago Tribune.”
Curry hired Florestine Purnell, his managing editor at “Emerge,” to serve in a similar capacity at NNPA. Curry was selected “2003 Journalist of the Year” by the National Association of Black Journalists for his work at the news service and on, the NNPA Web site.
Oliver is proud of what he has been able to accomplish over the past four years, but admits it has not always been easy.
“It’s been up and down,” he says. “First of all, it’s a non-paid job that requires high-paid time and high-paid skills. Sonny’s [business] organization is her biggest asset. Her applied organizational skills will develop those particular aspects of NNPA that the publishers need.”
Messiah-Jiles is married to Jodie Lee Jiles, an investment banker. She is the mother of two teenaged sons.
In a brief appearance before the NNPA convention, NAACP President and Chief Executive Kweisi Mfume issued a challenge to the publishers.
“I think their charge to all of us would be the same as those members of their own generation and that is to find a way to close the information gap by providing the coverage that’s not being provided elsewhere,” Mfume said. “I would challenge you to remember [this] on behalf of so many nameless and faceless people who read your publications, who believe in your written word, who appreciate your editorial perspective and who need very much for newspapers across this country to fill that gap to continue doing what you’re doing.”

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