NABJ To Resolve Chicago Chapter Dispute

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Clarification posted at 2 p.m., Sept. 17: The original version of this story suggested that the Chicago NABJ chapter had been decertified because of a dispute between two competing leadership slates. The chapter was actually decertified because of questions about candidate eligibility in April elections. The second group of officers was elected in July after the first contested election.

National Association of Black Journalists President Condace L. Pressley says Chicago will have an NABJ chapter again by mid-October.

The chapter, one of the largest in the nation, has been decertified since mid-summer and two competing factions — each of which elected separate leadership slates in separate elections — have been trying to be recognized as the legitimate NABJ affiliate chapter.

In a letter to Chicago-area NABJ members, Pressley said the national board of directors decertified the chapter because of “questions about the eligibility of candidates” in one of those elections, held on April 17. “Because of those questions, a group of NABJ members in Chicago sought to hold a second election on July 17,” the letter states. “As a result, there exists two competing leadership teams in Chicago.”

Pressley’s letter says the national board’s offer to supervise a third “and final” election has not been requested by either faction. “I anticipate that the competing leadership teams will continue to operate independent of each other and will submit a new application for recognition as an NABJ affiliate chapter,” she wrote. “Between now and Oct. 12, 2002 the NABJ Board of Directors will receive, review, and take action to establish an affiliate chapter in Chicago.”

One side in the dispute is led by Vernon Jarrett, an NABJ founder and veteran Chicago Sun-Times columnist who now writes a column for the daily black-oriented Chicago Defender. This side, which held its election July 17, chose Brenda Butler of the Chicago Tribune as vice president/print and Art Norman of WMAQ-TV as vice president/broadcasting. The other elected leadership slate, which held its election April 17, is led by free-lance photographer Louis Byrd III and includes Naimah Latif of the Latif Communications Group as vice president/print and Shelomith Yisrael, also known as Zelda Robinson, as vice president/broadcast.

Attempts to sort out the dispute at public and board meetings during NABJ’s annual convention in Milwaukee last month were unsuccessful, Pressley’s letter notes. At the convention, Pressley emphasized her determination to bring chapter organization up to national standards, and warned that other chapters could be decertified.

Pressley repeats the point in her letter: “The issue confronting (NABJ) in Chicago indicates to me and to the NABJ leadership that a careful review of NABJ’s governance documents is in order to provide for greater accountability between the association and its affiliate chapters.”

The letter also asks inactive Chicago members to get involved in NABJ again. “In a time when newsroom diversity efforts appear stalled,” Pressley writes, “NABJ needs you now more than ever.”

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