“Have you been invited?”
It’s a simple question that the Black Press has asked its community for several years, with the underlying message, “Don’t go where you haven’t been invited.”
Many publishers of Black newspapers have expressed that stores that do not carry African American products, advertise in African American-owned media, and refuse to carry African American newspapers and magazines for its customers, have sent a clear message that Blacks are not invited.
Maxine Session, founder and publisher of The Texas Informer newspaper, said she got the message loud and clear.
The Informer is an African American newspaper that has served Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Houston and Rusk counties for 19 years.
During a routine delivery in August of 2013, Walter Session, Informer owner and co-publisher, arrived at Kroger grocery store to find that the newspaper shelf, that had stood for many years inside the store entry, had been removed. He immediately found the store manager Christine Tate and stated that the newspaper shelf had been removed, and he wanted to know where he can place the Texas Informer. She said that he could not leave it there, that it was not her decision, but that of the corporate office. However, the mainstream newspaper was still in the store.
After having delivered to Kroger for 10 years, Tate informed Walter that he could not continue to place his newspaper in the store, because it was considered solicitation. She told him that it was not her decision, but that of corporate and if he wanted to continue to offer the publication to the store’s customers he would have to contact the corporate headquarters in Cincinnati.
Walter contacted headquarters, but each time he called their corporate office, customer service took a message with the response that someone would give him a call. No one did. The issue became one of many long battles in the struggle to run a minority publication.
“When you have an African American newspaper you fight a lot of battles,” Maxine said.
But having to pick her battles, Session decided not to pursue the lost distribution drop and concentrate on moving forward.
During an interview, Tate denied the conversation with Walter and suggested that the person to talk to regarding the matter would be Brian Mixon, another store manager.
At first, Mixon claimed Kroger Corporate made the decision to stop carrying the African American newspaper. But he quickly retracted his statement and claimed the regional office in Houston would have made the decision. Rather than expound upon the decision, he suggested contacting the consumer affairs office in Dallas.
James Smith, a long-time reader of the Texas Informer newspaper, said he was very concerned when he saw the newspaper was no longer available at the store. He stated that the absence of the newspaper affects the local African American community as well as other ethnicities in the area that read the publication.
“Many other groups, Asians and what have you, not just Blacks read the paper,” he said.
Other publications, such as The Power Pages News, have reported receiving the same clear message from Kroger that they weren’t invited. The publication has served Collin and its surrounding counties for almost 20 years.
Publisher and founder Hattie Kelly said that her newspaper has sought advertisement from Kroger for several years to no avail.
Black newspapers depend on advertising funds to provide jobs in the community – such as secretaries, reporters, graphic artists, etc., even summer internships for students.
Other Texas publishers have experienced the same response from Kroger, according to Mollie F. Belt, vice president of the Texas Publisher’s Association.
Belt is also the publisher and CEO of The Dallas Examiner. Her newspaper doesn’t receive any ads from the grocer either.
Karen Carter Richards, CEO and publisher of Houston Forward Times, said Kroger flat-out refuses to advertise with any Black newspaper in Houston.
“We don’t do any advertising in any African American newspapers,” Theresa Bordelon, Kroger’s regional hub manager told Judy Foston, Houston Forward Times’ publicist.
This is not expected to change any time soon. Even though Kroger’s is ranked 23rd on the list of Fortune 500 companies, it has no advertising budget allowed for its African American consumers.
In 2013, it set aside $198,058,196 for advertising. Mainstream television stations, newspapers and radio stations received the bulk of the advertising, which is common. It carved out a small portion for other minority media, but refused to include African American media.
However, Blacks spend $1 billion annually in supermarkets, with Kroger being their second choice.
“Are we really invited in their stores?” Belt asked. Or has the Black community become complacent?
“After so many years of being told ‘No,’ I’ve just stayed away. But now I feel it’s time to take action as a group,” said Kelly, who is the president of TPA.
Forming a united front, the publishers of TPA – representing African American newspapers across Texas – hope to spread their message to their readers.
Fifty years ago, one would not expect businesses to invite them in through advertising or carrying products designed for the African American community. Blacks took what they could get because that’s the way things were. But the Black community no longer has to accept being left out. TPA suggested that the African American community demand equality from their grocers.
Without fear of repercussions, Blacks can ask their managers for products that are designed to meet their needs; write to corporate offices and express their concerns about the lack of advertising geared toward their needs, and printed in the publications they read most; and insist that they carry African American publications in their stores.
Furthermore, TPA has suggested that African Americans do business with people who do business with Black businesses.