Crusader Staff Report
She has served as publisher of Gary and Chicago Crusader for more than 50 years. When Dorothy R. Leavell stood quietly as she was being introduced, a thunderous applause erupted and a standing ovation soon followed when the Gary Branch of the NAACP honored her with the Corporate Award for Excellence. For five decades she served Gary, but that day, many showed her their heartfelt appreciation to a woman who stuck with them when most newspapers left the city, along with whites during the decade of the Black political power in the 1960s and 70s.
She joined several community leaders and activists who were honored that afternoon. They include Dr. Michael McGhee, who was given the Gary NAACP Image Award; Oliver Gilliam, president of the Gary Frontiers Service Club was given the Hilbert Bradley Award; Dr. Sarah Givens, an educator for Gary Community Schools, who was given the Jeanette Strong Award.
It was a festive afternoon at the Genesis Convention Center on June 1 where Leavell was among several honorees who were celebrated for the contributions to civil rights at the branch’s 54th Annual Life Membership banquet. More than 200 Life Members, community partners, honored guests and friends joined Gary Branch President Stephen C. Mays in celebrating the history and participation of one of the oldest NAACP branches in the country.
The highlight of the occasion was the award presentation that added to a pile of growing honors for Leavell, who as a single Black mother was left with two newspapers when her husband, Crusader founder Balm L. Leavell, Jr. died in 1968. Through tough times, she steered both publications as advertising revenues declined for many newspapers. Today, after 58 years, the Gary Crusader remains the only Black newspaper in the city. Both newspapers (Chicago and Gary) never missed a single issue and have won 13 Merit Awards since 2013. Mays called her an “unsung hero” in Gary, where her newspaper helped leaders march to the “drumbeat” for political and socioeconomic change.
Indiana State Senator Eddie Melton led the banquet program of Who’s Who in Gary as the master of ceremonies. Among the distinguished guests on the program were Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who as the Honorary Chairperson welcomed the guests and delivered the closing remarks; Reverend R. J. Protho, Pastor, Unity Baptist Church and NAACP Life Member; and Darian Collins, First Vice President, Gary Branch NAACP.
The National Anthem and the Black National Anthem were sung by two Local ACT-SO Gold Medalists, Michael Green and Artrel Brown, respectively.
Fred Seamon, executive vice president of MGT Consulting Group, gave the keynote address. The theme of the 2019 Life Membership Banquet, “A Movement not a Moment: Dedicated to Securing Justice, Fairness & Equality” was written on the cover of an impressive program book placed at each seat.
For the past several years, Leavell has been in the spotlight for her role as chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, an organization that represents more than 200 Black newspapers across the country. Serving her third term as leader of the Black Press, Leavell headed up a committee to pardon the Wilmington Ten, which succeeded when then-Governor of North Carolina, Beverly Perdue, pardoned the group in 2013. Last year, she was selected to lead a group of investors who bought the iconic Chicago Reader, a weekly publication whose loyal readers have kept it going since 1971. While Leavell appreciates these duties, serving the people of Gary continues to be one of her most fulfilling roles that reminds her of her mission and purpose as a leader of the Black Press.
At the peak of her publishing career, Leavell is not slowing down, for the list of awards honoring her illustrious achievements as one of the nation’s most prominent Black publishers continues to grow. In April, she was honored with the Katie Hall Public Service Award. The following month, Leavell was honored with the Ida B. Wells Legacy Award in Chicago, where the Chicago Crusader started in a public housing project named after the legendary journalist. In November 2018, the Chicago Urban League presented Leavell with its Lester H. McKeever, Jr. Individual Service Award. She has also been honored as Publisher of the Year by the NNPA twice. Other awards include the Winnie Mandela Endurance with Dignity Award and “You are a Touch” presented by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. In 2016, Leavell was inducted into the Broadcasters Print Media Hall of Fame and the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.
A reception was held prior to the luncheon, which was then followed by the Awards ceremony.