Member Profile: Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes Shares Chamber’s Vision to Uplift Diverse Communities

The Washington Informer is a family-owned newspaper that spans three generations of journalists. Dr. Calvin W. Rolark started it in 1964. In 1980, his daughter, Denise Rolark Barnes, joined the publication and officially became its publisher in 1994. Under Barnes’ leadership, the Washington Informer is a Black, woman-owned multimedia news organization and continues to proudly serve the African-American community — families, neighborhoods, businesses, people of faith, and more — in the DMV. Her sons have also joined the publication, with one son at the helm of the newly launched The Bridge, a newspaper and cultural information piece for Black Millennials in Washington, DC, and the other contributing to the daily e-newsletters, OurHouse D.C. and WinDaily.

The start of the publication was inspired by the concern about the large Black population in the District of Columbia with no power or influence over any of the legislative or policy issues that impacted Black people.

“My stepmother helped finance the newspaper’s establishment,” says Barnes. “Both my parents were very active in the community, particularly when they first came to Washington in the U Street quarter, where there were a lot of Black-owned businesses. They were very active and engaged in local issues. And consequently, she ended up on the DC council, and he ended up starting the paper.”

Barnes graduated from Howard University, where she was the school’s law newspaper editor. Growing up listening to political conversations and local issues at her family’s dining table planted her interest in becoming involved in communications, mainly representing Black voices and communities. She set aside her plans to become a lawyer and joined her father at the Washington Informer.

“I attended DC Chamber of Commerce meetings many years ago when my father was active,” recalls Barnes. “The Chamber was focused on Black businesses, and I understood the importance of having an organization that advocated for and supported the growth of businesses, particularly in DC.”

Barnes believes the DC Chamber of Commerce plays an important role in advocating for its members. Its leadership understands the complexity of doing business in DC and is conscious of the diversity in the community and how to serve it. She also encourages members to become more engaged in uplifting the communities it represents or serves, such as Black, LGBTQ, women-owned, and more. 

“If you’re a business owner that represents a specific community, other business owners can identify with you, your success, and your story,” says Barnes. “We all have challenges, and we should demonstrate how we can overcome those challenges.”

Barnes also believes in the power of the Chamber’s network of business owners, resources, and opportunities to serve and connect with professionals who could support other businesses’ needs in accounting, legal and more. 

“It’s a trusted group of folks within the Chamber network that you call on first,” says Barnes.

For more information about Washington Informer, please visit: www.washingtoninformer.com.

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