By Danielle Wright
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” – Audre Lorde
Although racial and gender disparities in the field of journalism caused Beverly McKenna to change her intended college major from Journalism to English, she never gave up on her dream of utilizing journalism as a tool to elevate the voices of African-Americans and document the accurate contributions of African-Americans to the culture and progression of this country.
Nearly 33 years ago, in 1985, Beverly McKenna along with her husband Dr. Dwight McKenna, Kermit Thomas, and James Borders, founded a monthly newsmagazine, The New Orleans Tribune. Today, Beverly McKenna currently serves as publisher and executive editor of the publication.
The history of The New Orleans Tribune dates to circa 1864, when it was founded by Dr. Louis Charles Roundanez. It was the first black daily newspaper in the United States. The publication maintained an unwavering dedication to social justice and civil rights. Since the inception of the modern Tribune in 1985, Beverly Mckenna has carried out the legacy of Dr. Louis Charles Roundanez through the publication’s relentless dedication to depicting the lived experiences of African-Americans through their own voice.
Beverly’s commitment to documenting and preserving the art, culture, and history of African-Americans extends beyond her work with the The New Orleans Tribune. She is also the founder of Le Musée de f.p.c., a historic house museum, dedicated exclusively to preserving the material culture of free people of color and telling their story.
Ms. McKenna is the first person of color to own this Greek Revival residence located in the Upper Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. The museum is revolutionizing the way that free people of color are depicted, expanding the historical schema beyond the placage system of white men’s relationships with mixed race women. Le Musee de f.p.c. elevates the stories of free people of color as successful entrepreneurs, craftsman, artisans, property owners, innovators, revolutionary thinkers, and political and community leaders. Le Musee offers private, group, and school tours. The venue also hosts art exhibitions, cultural and wellness events, weddings, and other special events.
Beverly McKenna has always believed in the economic power of African-American entrepreneurship and the African-American consumer market. Working to advance equitable economic opportunities for black businesses, she created a directory of black businesses called the New Orleans Black Book, available in both print and as an app.
Beverly is also leading the creation of an ecosystem for black entrepreneurship that seeks to create more equitable opportunities for African-American seasoned and novice entrepreneurs in the City of New Orleans. Located on the historic Bayou Road, it is a corridor for the resurgence of black owned businesses in one of the city’s oldest thoroughfares that once served as an illumination of inspiration for free people of color in the 1800’s. The corridor is comprised of African-American owned business in the areas of retail, food and beverage, entertainment, and beauty and grooming. The corridor also includes a wellness center which offers yoga classes, mindfulness meditation groups, and counseling services.
Ms. McKenna’s contributions to preserving and advancing the historical legacy of African-Americans in this city are remarkable. She continues to break racial and gender barriers, and as she continues to break those barriers, she reaches back to create pathways for generations coming behind her. We salute her during Women’s History Month and thank her for her efforts.