Remembering Dr. Calvin Rolark

Remembering Dr. Calvin Rolark

Friends Recall Informer Founder

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by Stacy M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from the Washington Informer

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who writes a weekly column that runs in The Washington Informer, simply couldn’t find the right words.

Jackson, who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr., twice ran for president of the United States and has met with leaders the world over, proved unable to come up with a phrase sufficient to describe how he felt about Washington Informer founder the late Dr. Calvin Rolark.

“He really wants to, Dr. Rolark meant so much,” Jackson’s chief of staff John Mitchell said.

While the reverend struggled to offer his thoughts on the 50th anniversary of the newspaper’s founding, others like Radio One founder and Chairperson Cathy Hughes allowed some of the fondest of words to roll right off of her tongue.

“Dr. Calvin Rolark was bold, brave and brilliant. He showed me firsthand what is expected of a D.C. media outlet if they are to remain relevant,” said Hughes, 67, who in 1980 started Radio One and has since turned the company into one of the nation’s premier media empires.

“Dr. Rolark was a committed visionary, and the 50th anniversary of The Washington Informer is a living testimony to his legacy,” Hughes said. “I am eternally grateful for the lessons he taught me and the example he set for all media professionals.”

A spokeswoman for legendary comedian Bill Cosby said the entertainer had been touring, and while she couldn’t reach him for comment, she said part of Cosby’s fondness for the District has to do with “men like Dr. Rolark.”

Dr. Benjamin Chavis Jr., the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Rolark proved to be a “comrade in arms during the civil rights struggle.”

Chavis, 66, a former assistant to King who now serves as president of the 200-plus-member National Newspapers Publishers Association, said his admiration for Dr. Rolark runs deep.

“He was an outstanding civic leader and freedom fighter. There was no question that the residents of Washington, D.C., not only had a strong advocate, but I remember how he would push the envelope particularly in the cases of those who were on the margins of society and who had no one to speak for them,” Chavis said.

“For a long period of time, Dr. Calvin Rolark was the voice of D.C., and I’m a witness to when the baton was passed from father to daughter. And Denise Rolark Barnes has picked up that torch and run with it, and we are all proud of her. And I’m sure Dr. Rolark would be as well.”

Cloves Campbell, the publisher of the Arizona Informant and chairman of the NNPA, echoed Chavis’ comments.

He said Dr. Rolark, who attended Prairie View College and Tennessee State, Michigan State and Cornell universities, left behind quite the legacy and nearly impossible shoes to fill.

Dr. Rolark died in 1994 at the age of 67.

“Dr. Rolark provided D.C. with phenomenal feats,” said Campbell, 51. “Now, Denise Rolark Barnes has done an excellent job in continuing his legacy, and, make no mistake about it, Dr. Rolark was an incredible newsperson.”