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Leon Dash: Journalist’s Contributions Encompass the Globe

Shortly after Sir Charles Carter became publisher of the Nassau Guardian in 2006, he contacted an old-time friend he had attended high school with in New York who had established a very successful career as a journalist in the U.S.

Sir Charles had also become a renowned journalist, but radio and television were the foundation for his journalistic accomplishments, and he realized that the challenges that lie ahead as publisher of one of The Bahamas’ leading daily newspapers required the advice and support of someone who had experience in the print aspect of the Fourth Estate. He placed a phone call to his old high school buddy, Leon Dash, and convinced the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who had become a professor of journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to visit Nassau to discuss the possibility of becoming an editorial consultant for The Guardian.

Given his pioneering background in helping to “tear down” racial barriers in journalism at the Washington Post, Dash almost immediately devised and established a journalistic training program at The Guardian after he became a consultant. He took his training program one step further by arranging for several young reporters at The Guardian, who had undergraduate degrees in journalism, to obtain scholarships at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to study for their Master’s Degree in journalism.

The first young journalist to benefit from his scholarship program was Thea Rutherford, who had been a  reporter at The Freeport News when I was editor of that Grand Bahama-based daily newspaper from 2003 -2009 before she joined the staff of The Guardian. Actually, both The Guardian and The Freeport News are owned by the same company and Thea’s “transfer” came after she decided to relocate to Nassau from Freeport.

Thea was an ideal first choice by Dash for advanced training in journalism. She had obtained a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science from McGill University in 2004, shortly after which she joined the staff of The Freeport News and was an exceptionally good reporter.

Because I previously lived in the District for 21 years before returning to The Bahamas permanently in 1996, I knew Dash was an award-winning journalist at the Washington Post, but I met him for the first time when I attended a board meeting as editor of the Freeport News at The Guardian in Nassau.

His contributions to those meetings impressed me tremendously and there was no question in my mind at the time that Sir Charles, with whom I have shared a close friendship from boyhood days, had made an excellent choice is “contracting” the services of his boyhood friend as a consultant.

I am still do not know the full story as to why the contractual arrangement between Dash and The Guardian ended, but published reports at the time indicated that he tendered his resignation as a member The Nassau Guardian Board of Directors in December of 2008 in the aftermath of Sir Charles tendering his resignation as publisher. Nonetheless, Dash’s two-year stint as a consultant at The Guardian by any yardstick noticeably enhanced the quality of journalism at that daily newspaper tremendously.

Leon Dash: The Foundational Years

Dash grew up in New York City and later attended Howard University. In 1965, he joined the staff of the Washington Post, where he “worked as a member of the special projects unit, as part of the investigative desk, and as the West Africa Bureau Chief,” according to Wikipedia.

Dash spent 1969-1970 as a Peace Corps high school teacher in Kenya, and after he rejoined the staff of the Washington Post, he wrote an eight-part series “Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America,” a story of “one woman and her family’s struggle against poverty in the projects of Washington, D.C.

According to Wikipedia, “Aside from winning a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism for the story, the Rosa Lee piece was also the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and was later published into a book. It was picked as one of the best 100 pieces in 20th-century American journalism by New York University’s journalism department.

“While living in the inner city of Washington, D.C., for a year, Dash researched teenage pregnancy in black youths for his book, When Children Want Children: The Urban Crisis of Teenage Childbearing. The book features conversations with teens and contains stories that contradict the common belief that inadequate birth control and lack of sex education classes are the causes of teenage pregnancy. He received an Emmy Award in 1996 from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for a documentary series in the public affairs category of hard issues.”

Dash joined the University of Illinois as a professor of Journalism in 1998 and was later named the Swanlund Chair Professor of Journalism, Law and Afro-American Studies in 2000. Three years later he was made a permanent faculty member in the University’s Center for Advanced Study.

Dash is founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), and along with 43 other founders of the organization, he was inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame on August 5, 2016.

More than 4,000 Black journalists and media professionals participated in the 2019 annual NABJ convention, held from August 7 – 11, 2019, at the JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort and Spa in Aventura. During the five-day conference, on August 9, Dash and “The Washington Post Metro Seven” were collectively inducted into the NABJ Hall of Fame.

“On the morning of March 23, 1972, seven Black reporters on The Washington Post’s Metropolitan Desk held a press conference at historic Metropolitan AME Church announcing they had filed a racial discrimination complaint against the newspaper with the EEOC. In November 1972, after its investigation, the EEOC issued a report concurring that The Post was a discriminatory employer. The Metro Seven’s action, first of its kind, rippled through the journalism industry,” according to June Cross, who took the photo of The Washington Post Metro Seven’s induction into the NABJ Hall of Fame that was posted on Facebook.

Oswald T. Brown is President of THE BROWN AGENCY, a public relations and marketing LLC based in Washington, D.C., which publishes the online news publication BAHAMAS CHRONICLE. He is former Editor of both the Nassau Guardian and the Freeport News in The Bahamas.

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