Afro Newspaper

Toni Draper

“The Afro-American Newspaper is a family-owned business and I'm a fourth-generation publisher. My great-grandfather, John H. Murphy, Sr. who was born into slavery in Baltimore, founded the paper in 1892.

He and my great-grandmother, Martha Murphy had ten children, five boys and five girls. One of the boys was Carl Murphy, my grandfather, who was a German professor at Howard University.

He earned his bachelor’s at Howard University, his master’s degree from Harvard and his doctorate at the University of Jena in Germany.

He would help his dad with the paper on the weekends and his father selected him to be his successor. Each of my grandfather's nine siblings also had a job at the paper. The men had more of the hands-on jobs, but they had to pay their sisters the same rate for their work.

My grandfather, who was the successor for the publisher’s position, much to his disappointment at first, had nothing but girls. He had five girls and one of those girls was my mom, Frances L. Murphy, II.

Four of his girls were trained in journalism at the expense of the State of Maryland, because at that time the University of Maryland would not admit African Americans.

African Americans had to attend the black university, which was Morgan State, but if that school did not offer the major you wanted, then the State of Maryland paid for you to attend an out-of-state college.

My mother and her sisters earned their journalism degrees from the University of Wisconsin, the University of Minnesota, and Howard University.

My grandfather, Carl, who had these five daughters and then sixteen grandchildren, told all of us, “if you can walk you can write a story about it.”

So, my cousins, other family members and I started doing work for the newspaper as pre-teens.

We all went into different professions including law, education, and medicine, but over the years, the publisher role has always been filled by family members, including my mother.

We’re aware that we have a great legacy to live up to and believe we have a responsibility to make an impact, no matter where we are.

We know the Murphy name carries a tremendous responsibility in and beyond the black community.

I am excited that we have fifth and sixth generation Murphy descendants who are part of the team at The Afro who are continuing our legacy.

I became president of the paper in 1987 and left in 1999 to pursue ministry. In 2018, I returned after being named chairman of the board and publisher.

I am able to do great work as a pastor and a publisher because both are leadership roles. I understand that leadership is about motivating and supporting a team of people to achieve goals.

When you're a senior pastor, it’s equivalent to being the head of a business because a church is a corporation, it's just a non-profit corporation.

So, the service you deliver may be different, but the principles for running a church are the same as running a business.

My advantage is that I use the principles I learned in my MBA program. I was in business before I was in ministry, so I use those tools to run the church too.

I think that while Baltimore city has made a lot of progress, especially in the number of micro businesses that have cropped up, I still think it's challenging to scale a business in Baltimore.

Although there is financial support available for small businesses, I think there is a gap in the middle because many of these businesses don’t qualify for funds to take them to the next level.

The Afro is one of those businesses, we're not a business of $750,000 or below and we don’t employ 100 people, but we have the potential to do that. Based on that criteria, we don’t qualify for financial support from the SBA (Small Business Administration) to scale our business. I see the same issue for many other minority owned businesses in Baltimore.

I think we can change this by acknowledging the issue and intentionally addressing it head on.

Access to capital will help, but we also need black businesses to own their property and work to meet the standards that help them to scale and get beyond the SBA’s definition of a small business.

The pandemic presented a challenge for every business. In our case, it was a good challenge because the combination of the presidential election, the unfortunate murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the list goes on; all of that happening in a relatively short time, put a spotlight on the fact that black lives do matter, and the black owned press matters as well.

It allowed us opportunities that we might not have had as a business. It sparked renewed conversation and coverage that highlighted the issues in the black community.

We released a book in September 2019 called The Thing I Love about Baltimore. The late Rep. Elijah E.  Cummings wrote the foreword, and it highlights many of the wonderful things about Baltimore including its history, neighborhoods, universities, and museums.

Baltimore is a great place for lots of reasons. The location is great, the weather is relatively temperate, and we have so many renowned universities and hospitals.

Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods which gives people a variety of places to live. It’s close enough to Washington, D.C, for those who want to commute. It's more affordable than a lot of other places and we have several major league sports teams here for sports lovers.

I really hope Baltimore’s economy grows and I think small businesses are key for that growth. I think the future of Baltimore’s economy is bright. We have to scale these small businesses because too many of them die when the owner dies, so we have to find ways to help them to not just survive, but to thrive, grow and expand.

I would love to see The Afro continue to evolve into the media authority that it is. In 2014, Nielsen did a survey at Essence Festival that asked who respondents thought the number one black media authority in the country was and The Afro was number one.

I would love for The Afro to keep this distinction because we're not a newspaper, we are a media and information company. We have no regrets about being an information company for and by African Americans, that's our niche. That's what we do.

People sometimes ask me, “How do you compete with The Baltimore Sun?” I tell them we're not in competition with The Baltimore Sun. They can't tell our stories like we can tell our stories, and we can’t do what they do. They have their role, and we have our role. A role we are proud to fulfill.”

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