ST. PETERSBURG — Since winning election to the Florida Legislature in April 2008, Rep. Darryl E. Rouson has advocated for a variety of programs that build partnerships and promote economic development within his district and the greater Tampa Bay region.
The 2010 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Civic Leadership from University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP), Rouson understands the important role that community institutions, including the press, play in fostering dialog, education and collaboration.
Founder of The Weekly Challenger, Cleveland Johnson, Jr. circa 1975.
For more than three years, Rouson has focused on an important initiative to bring together The Weekly Challenger and the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library at USFSP on a project to digitize and preserve the newspaper’s history, while also looking for ways to sustain and ensure the future of a vibrant African-American press throughout Florida.
Rouson worked closely with other members of the Pinellas County legislative delegation and the Office of the Governor to secure funding beginning in 2016-17.
This initiative has two distinct components. The Poynter Library will play an important role in preserving the physical and digital versions of The Weekly Challenger, its photographic archives, and other materials that document the African American experience in this area.
Preservation efforts actually began in March 2013, when the library’s secure Special Collections room became the home for the existing historic issues of the newspaper and many photographs once housed at The Weekly Challenger’s office.
The newspaper and USFSP will also explore collaborative partnerships that will expand the reach and reaffirm the importance of sustaining Florida’s African-American press through market research, business plans, conversations and symposia.
Part of this second component involves students and faculty in USFSP’s Neighborhood News Bureau (NNB). In addition to the NNB, the initiative will bring together other experts from business, industry and education, including talent from the Poynter Institute.
Along with Rouson, others involved in developing this initiative include Dr. Goliath Davis, the leadership at The Weekly Challenger, librarians at Poynter Library, the NNB and members of the leadership team at USFSP.
Catherine Cardwell, dean of the Poynter Library, praised this valuable partnership.
“The Poynter Library is pleased to be given the opportunity to support this important initiative,” she said, adding that, “Preserving and digitizing The Weekly Challenger will allow scholars, teachers and students in Florida and around the world to access the archive and integrate the material into their research, teaching, and, most importantly, learning.”
During the first year, the library will scan and prepare back issues of the newspaper for inclusion in a digital collection that will be available to anyone who has internet access. As issues are added to the archive, people throughout the world will be able to browse editions of The Weekly Challenger from the 1990s through 2015 on their computers without any subscription costs.
Although few of the earlier issues of the newspaper exist, the newspaper and USFSP welcome those who find issues of the paper from its inception in 1967 through the 1990s to contact the Poynter Library so these issues may also be digitized.
Those with earlier issues or other photographic or historical materials related to local African- American history may contact the library’s Special Collections office at (727) 873-4094.
Part of this initiative sponsored by Rouson will also allow for the creation of digital photographic collections of the African-American community from the newspaper’s archives as well as the library’s collections. These digital collections will enhance access to—and a better understanding of—African-American history in the Tampa Bay area.
Throughout the next year and into the future, additional information about The Weekly Challenger Digital Initiative will be shared. As the newspaper, USFSP and the Poynter Library move forward, we thank Rouson, whose vision made this partnership possible.