Prophets Without Honor

The self-proclaimed ministers of capitalism have gotten a cool reception to their gospel in Dallas. But Chevis King Jr. and Joe Howard won't give up till they've found a better way to spend black people's money.

This may be the year that the two reap their blessings. The duo's stint on KRLD is a desperately needed boost, exposing them to a much larger, more diverse audience. The paper's new launch in Fort Worth this month will cast their message farther afield. After enduring obscurity and near poverty, Howard and King believe their efforts will finally take them into the promised land of a stronger, more economically viable black community and riches for themselves.

"I don't kid Chevis, and he don't kid me. We both want to be wealthy," Howard says. "And we are going to be wealthy--wealthy beyond anybody's imagination. We knew that we wanted to change this runaway train of black consumerism. If we can move it to the right or to the left a little bit, there is a lot of money to be made."

The Black Economic Times' temple of capitalism is housed in a nondescript office building on Young Street in downtown Dallas. The office itself is rather ordinary--unassuming wood paneling on the walls, unremarkable carpet, typical office-supply furniture.

But it is a step up. Their last home in the decrepit Westcliff mall featured '70s-vintage shag carpets, air conditioning that usually didn't work, and a property owner who developed a habit of not paying the mall's utility bills.

One thing hasn't changed, though: There are papers piled everywhere--on tabletops, chairs, the floor--in no discernible order. The sight of so much debris doesn't exactly inspire awe. To the contrary, one wonders how they ever manage to put out a single issue.

It's a small operation, Howard explains. His son, Blaine Jon Howard, does most of the editorial work, from editing copy to layout to writing stories. Howard sells ads, handles freelancers, and makes sure that papers get dropped at the churches and barbershops. King sells ads and pays the bills.

Howard, 54, and King, 55, met in 1992--introduced to each other through Howard's wife and King's daughter. The two women worked together, and sometimes Howard gave the women rides to work. As Howard would talk, Vernona King would remark how similar his views sounded to her father's. After months of cajoling, Howard finally called King at his home in Oklahoma City. Within 20 minutes, King knew he had found a kindred spirit. "It was fate," King says.

King was considering starting a newspaper to espouse the virtues of free-market capitalism around the same time Howard was looking for a new challenge. Both men had recently lost businesses. So King made Howard an offer: Help him start a newspaper, and eventually he'd earn a piece of it. Howard agreed.

A newspaper may seem an unlikely path for two frustrated capitalists trying to make it filthy rich. And even today, the duo's work often seems stuck in the desert-wandering stage. Dallas already has five established, regularly published newspapers catering to the black communities. But Howard and King believe they're leading their people out of a wilderness of bankrupt ideas--and that it will take time to winnow away the idolaters of socialism.

"It will happen," King says. "We live in America; we embrace capitalism. Talent alone won't do it for us. Persistence will. The truth will. Capitalism is our ministry. We were chosen to do it."

The pair launched The Black Economic Times five years ago with $4,000 and big dreams. The men projected it would take a mere couple of years for King to recoup his investment. They naively believed that once black people read the paper and saw the truth, leaders and regular folks alike would, in the words of their idol Booker T., "throw down their buckets" and become independent through hard, honest work.

"But we didn't do nearly as good as we thought," King says, chuckling.
That first year, the paper ran out of money after just a few issues. Advertising money wasn't coming in. Businesses were slow to accept them, often downright frosty. To keep the paper afloat, King cashed in some bonds he'd bought years ago--netting him $10,000. Had he held on to them, they would have matured this year and paid $26,000.

"I had to raise capital," King says. "It was part of the sacrifice. But my wife wasn't too happy about it."

The paper has survived, in large part, because of personal sacrifices. King's wife, Margie, helps through the lean times by working as a manager in a chain clothing store. Howard's wife, Sherry, takes work when necessary to keep the family afloat. Right now, she's working for a formal company through prom season.

King and Howard pay themselves pittance salaries; Howard took home $16,800 last year, while King took in just over $19,000. They plow most of their money back into the paper and radio show.

While the paper has been built on the toil of the two men and Howard's son, it is not an equal partnership. King owns the paper; it was his idea, and the name and concept are his intellectual property. Howard's reward for five years of toil is his own franchise in Fort Worth. The arrangement is a good one, King says.

"Joe never had a problem with knowing that I am the chief here and the leader," he says. "There is a respect for his talents and a respect for mine and for me as the owner."

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