In an effort to tell the story of AARP’s work in the state, AARP Mississippi engages with media outlets to reach a range of audiences. One of the ways the state office reaches the African American community is through The Jackson Advocate, the statewide newspaper of record in the African American community. The African American– and woman-owned newspaper recently celebrated its 83rd anniversary.
The Jackson Advocate was launched in 1938 by Percy Greene, who ran it until he died, in 1977. The following year, Charles Tisdale and his wife, Alice Thomas Tisdale, purchased the paper.
Alice Thomas Tisdale became publisher in 2007, after her husband passed away. Their daughter, DeAnna Tisdale Johnson, took over as publisher in March 2020, when her mother retired, just two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.
“I had been transitioning into the role of publisher for a year,” Tisdale Johnson says. “So my entire tenure as publisher has been through a pandemic. We are used to being able to maintain through struggle. That’s one thing I learned from my parents — make sure we are here for the community and build the business. To really just hunker down and do the work and make sure we remember our mission ... to be the voice of Black Mississippians.”
Over the years, AARP Mississippi placed advertisements and stories with the newspaper to inform readers about voter engagement, the AARP Fraud Watch Network, family caregiving, events and more. During the pandemic, The Jackson Advocate served as a source of information about the COVID-19 vaccines, the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and family caregiving. The paid ads informed readers about where to get the vaccines, how to apply for internet-service discounts and how to find family caregiving information. The state office will continue working with The Jackson Advocate through virtual events being planned for next year.
“A lot of our readers are older people who get their news from newspapers,” Tisdale Johnson says. “So the vaccine information that AARP Mississippi shared was very important.”
Tisdale Johnson is accustomed to overcoming obstacles and moving forward. She was 12 years old when the newspaper’s office was firebombed. “From 1978 to now, and hopefully for hundreds of years more, The Jackson Advocate has been a family-run and owned business,” she says. “The last 40 years of The Jackson Advocate’s 83-year history has had the Tisdale name stamped on it, and I’m very proud of that. We have experienced hardships and triumphs.”
The editorial focus of the paper now is on solutions journalism, the publisher notes, citing a series on how the pandemic has affected Black women in Mississippi.
“My goal is to expand the business as we continue to grow our digital presence.” In addition to the subscription base, Tisdale Johnson’s team delivers the newspapers to churches, schools and businesses throughout the state.
Tisdale Johnson is a classically trained opera singer who has a bachelor of arts degree from Tougaloo College and master of music degree from the University of Southern Mississippi (both in vocal performance). She also has a graduate performance diploma from Boston Conservatory of Music.
“Everything that I have done has something to do with voice in some way,” Tisdale Johnson says. “The motto on the masthead is ‘The voice of Black Mississippians,’ and my personal passion is to share my voice through music.”
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Ronda Gooden is the associate state director for AARP Mississippi.