Washington Informer Spelling Bee Celebrates 30th Year

Floyd Nelson Jr. | 3/28/2012, 11:02 a.m.

After The Washington Post turned down the opportunity to sponsor the event, Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, the founder and publisher of The Washington Informer, was approached and agreed to sponsor the citywide spelling bee. The first Washington Informer sponsored spelling bee was held in 1982 at Bertie Backus Junior High School. Because The Informer, however, was not a daily newspaper, the city's spelling bee winner was not permitted to compete at the national competition. The District found itself effectively still blocked out of completion.

With The Washington Informer being the only black newspaper sponsoring a spelling bee, Rolark felt something else was going on --racial discrimination. He and his wife, attorney and city council member, Wilhelmina J. Rolark, threatened to file an injunction blocking Scripps from holding the spelling bee in the District of Columbia until Scripps decided to allow weekly newspapers to be spelling bee sponsors. The Informer took the sponsorship mantle.

Denise Rolark Barnes, The Washington Informer publisher and Rolark's daughter, said her late father would be happy and pleased to know the newspaper he started is continuing to sponsor the spelling bee.

"If my dad were here, he would be overjoyed that The Washington Informer is continuing a tradition that he started--the tradition of sponsoring the annual spelling bee," Rolark Barnes said. "He believed that education was fundamental to the growth and success of young people, this city, the nation and the world. Our newspaper is proud to be associated with the education of our local children who truly are our future."

Rolark Barnes underscored that corporate sponsors are a significant part of The Washington Informer Spelling bee. This year's sponsors who have contributed cash and prizes include: NBC4, DCPS, McDonald's, the Washington Nationals, Pepco, the Foundation for the Advancement of Music and Education (FAME), Champion Trophies, Jack H. Olender & Associates, Microsoft, Nielsen, Giant, Young Designs, The Coca-Cola Company, McMillon Communications and Southwest Airlines

Nielsen's Director of Public Affairs Courtney Jones, said "all companies should be invested" in the future and encouraging students to be voracious readers" while studying the English language, foreign languages and embracing learning opportunities.

"We will continue to support initiatives such as The Washington Informer Spelling Bee. We do a lot of support with science technology, engineering and math and something like the spelling bee--when students are encouraged to read and understand language--that is a building block for success in their future endeavor. Being a good speller and being someone who avidly reads--that's the foundation and the building blocks for whatever you want to do."