Mag Love: ESSENCE April and May issues

Essence covers I don’t exactly read magazines, I devour them, classy glossy perfume inserts and all. How-to guides, exercise cards and recipe tear-outs abound on my refrigerator and walls, and spill over into manilla folders that date back to 2008 (yes I’ve been hoarding content since I was 17).

I’m not shy about my love for ESSENCE magazine. It’s easily in my top 5 favorite women’s titles. ESSENCE introduced me to the goodness that is Morris Chestnut, the concept of mixing high-end and affordable fashion, and that mental wellness and spiritual happiness aren’t luxury items–they’re necessary for survival.

ESSENCE convinced my 14 year-old self to open a bank account and about the woes of credit card debt. I applied for college scholarships listed in its pages, and became a more assertive young woman through its commitment to building personal goal-setting. The title has pioneered some of the most inspirational and explosive editorial frontiers, from exploring black women on reality TV to creating points of synergy by uniting the literary trifecta–Maya Aneglou, Nikki Giovanni, and Toni Morrison--in a disscourse on sisterhood and the black woman. So, yes, overall the mag is pretty great. But like any business, it’s not without its shortcomings. I should note that I remember distinct stages in ESSENCE’s progression over the last 10 years (when the publication was black-owned, before being purchased and absorbed by Time Inc.

Growing up, I always looked for Susan L. Taylor’s braided hair and toothy grin peering over a demure shoulder on the “Letter from the Editor” page. Post-Time Inc., the “consumer” element within the complex black woman’s identity came to the forefront, and her buying power was her voting power, so ESSENCE endeavored to help her make conscious decisions, sometimes, in my opinion, aligning itself too perfectly with the media industry in the way of advertorials and entertainment-driven features.  Still,  I waited anxiously each month for the latest copy, and read the site  like it was my job.

A bit of history:

  • In 2007, after working her way up the editorial ladder since the mag’s 1970 debut, the formidable journalist Susan L. Taylor stepped down from her post as eic to focus on creating and sustaining a mentoring network between black women and at-risk youth, National Cares Mentoring Movement.
  • Constance took on the role as eic in 2007 and in January 2013,  White announced her planned departure from the Time, Inc.- controlled title
  • In February 2013 Clutch magazine reported that White had been fired from Essence, after clashing with Time Inc.’s top management over editorial and oversight/ vision differences. Sounds to me like Constance was working hard behind the scnees, with little internal support.  editors Corynne Corbett and Greg Monfries also reported parting with the monthly.
  • March 2013: White interviews with the Maynard Institute’s blog, Richard Prince’s Journali-isms and says she was fired after clashing with Time Inc. eic Martha Nelson:

“I went in there with passion and excitement and high expectations,” White told Journal-isms, referring to her 2011 hiring. “It wasn’t what I expected at all. “What needs to happen is the reader is getting lost and the reader has to be at the center. To make their world smaller is unacceptable,” White said by telephone. “A lot of the readers have sensed” what is happening, she said. Essence, the nation’s leading magazine for black women, was originally black-owned but has not fared well under Time Inc. ownership, White maintained. Nelson vetoed such pieces as a look at African American art and culture, and “I was not able to make the creative hires that needed to be made,” White said. She elaborated by email, “When was the last time you saw Essence in the community advocating for or talking with Black women? “How is it that from 2000, when Susan [L. Taylor, longtime editor] left— she was pushed out — we have had about five editors, including two acting editors, yet Essence continues to decline? So where’s the problem? And the editors are the black women. ‘They are disposable. Let’s keep changing them.’ “The point is, it didn’t start with me,” White said of the conflicts between top Essence editors and Time Inc. management. “If I can make a difference, I’d like to. If no one speaks up, it’s possible it won’t end with me.”

I’ve had the opportunity to get the best of ESSENCE in the 21st century, to be nurtured and challenged in its pages, as the ultimate reminder that every editorial decision is accompanied by several value judgments. As a beginning journalist myself, ESSENCE in its current state reminds me with each page the personal is inherently political that what is crafted for me is not always done by someone who can relate to me or someone with my best interests at heart, but instead with the best bottom-line in mind. From my perspective as an avid reader and observer I earnestly believe that  Ms. White did the best she cold to nurture a fantastic team and lead the brand in an atmosphere  that perhaps sought to overrun her at every turn, and if the ESSENCE of today is the result of a strangled communication line and uneven flow of influence, I hope I’ll soon know what the full-fledged realization of the magazine and brand could be.

The magazine has been a surrogate sister and fashion-forward cousin who always has the latest looks but manages to be timeless. If this post reads as a beacon of praise, it’s because I believe the ESSENCE team on the whole should be celebrated for the work the publication does, and for its Instagram team and the magic they make,so I want to share what I loved about the April and May issues, because it’s necessary for writers/ editors to hear, “hey, like what you did here” every once in a while when you mean it.

APRIL: What I’m Loving

Essence Festival New Orleans 2013!

Essence Festival 2013: N ew Orleans

So, the ESSENCE Festival is coming up! I haven’t been (yet!), but in my head it plays out like a grown n’ sexy picnic with shades, maxi-dresses, cute short haircuts, and some frothy iced alcoholic drink mixed with Alize (color: blue). I don’t know how they manage to pack everyone you could love into a 4-day festival of all things great in life/ on the radio at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (I’m sorry–Ms. Jill Scott AND Solange AND Maxwell AND Beyoncé AND [insert undeniable hit artist here]. It’s like they peered into my neo-soul iPod and said, “Yeah, we’ll take care of it.”

Coco & Breezy spread: Black and White 


I was so happy to see a full photo spread featuring Coco & Breezy in signature black and white get-ups. The fashion editorial kept with April’s “twinning” theme–entertainment mogul pair Tia n’ and Tamera Mowry graced April’s cover. My go-to colors have been officially “in” for months (but seriously, when are they ever OUT?), now if I could just master mixing patterns, I’d be set. Until then, I’ll just fawn over Coco & Breezy eyewear and Coco & Breezy style and CocoBreezyCocoBreezyCocoBreezy.

Mom & Me & Mom
“Mom & Me & Mom”, Maya Angelou (Random House)

Review: Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou 

April’s recap and review of Dr. Angelou’s latest book “Mom & Me & Mom” reminded me why I’m such a fan and student of her work–Maya always manages to bring it back to home, full-circle in such a dynamic way that you end up wondering, “how, after shedding so much, could she still have more to say?” That’s because she’s Dr. Angelou. That’s how. She lives her inspiration, and in “Mom & Me & Mom” she looks back at her relationship with her birth mother, the complex Vivian Baxter Johnson.  I’m downloading this book as I speak (type…?), and can’t wait to find myself and my own mother (as I always do in Maya’s work) in the pages. It  feels selfish sometimes, to absorb an author’s work and expect to find glimpses of yourself, but that’s the hallmark of Maya–she’s learned from and been nurtured by the generations that came before and after her, that it’s impossible not to feel inherently tethered to  her. The prologue reads:

“Frequently, I have been asked how I got to be this way. How did I, born black in a white country, poor in a society where wealth is adored and sought after at all costs, female in an environment where only large ships and some engines are described favorably by using the female pronoun–how did I get to be Maya Angelou? Many times I have wanted to quote Topsy, the young black girl in Uncle Tom’s Cabin I have been tempted to say, “I dunno. I just growed.” I never used that response, for a number of reasons. First, because I read the book in m y early teens and the ignorant black girl embarrassed me. Second, I knew that I had become the woman I am because of the grandmother I loved and the mother I came to adore. Their love informed, educated, and liberated me.”

Now, go ahead and click “Add to Cart” or “Download”.

Work & Wealth: How to Build a Financial Legacy by Deborah Owens 


The April”The Career Success Guide” was just what I needed during the last weeks of school, to kickstart myself and power through to the end. I kind of have a thing or career guides/ tips/ self-help anything. Call it my unsettled inner control freak or my career-curious 22-year-old self who hangs out in my university’s Career Center for fun. When I read these articles and the like I make sure to absorb them cautiously, not a s a road map for all success, but fragments of a road map that led to someone’s success.

I especially loved the “How to Build a Financial Legacy” feature. My main takeaway:

“Poverty-minded women think day-to-day, middle-class women think month-to-month, rich women think year-to-year, truly wealthy women think generation-to-generation.”

Wow. Just re-read that. I’ll wait.

I almost always come at generation-to-generation issues with a day-to-day mentality. That quote spoke truth to so many of the financial issues I see in myself and reflected in my upbringing and family. When I come from a mental space of ‘don’t-have-never-will-have-don’t-expect’ , I shouldn’t be surprised when my practices remain rooted in this impoverished mindset. This entire issue  warrants a series of blog posts but suffice it to say that building wealth begins in the mind–believing that you are worthy of gaining financial stability. Again, caution is absolutely necessary here. Being financially entitled and financially deserving are completely different in my opinion. The same way it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a well-trained army to save and know the value of a dollar, without being  owned by financial and capitalist gain. It seems that seeking aspiration-based living without taking the steps to critically examine and analyze the aspirations, their foundations, and their effects leads to much of the unstable financial footing I’m familiar with. Time to re-count the pennies and use money as a tool, not an end-goal.

MAY: The Month of Monae. ‘Nuf said. 

janelle monae essenceOk. #1: Janelle Monae on the cover was the highlight of the issue before I even opened the cover. WHAT?? Ms. Monae is my stature sister (5’0″ stand UP!). Monae’s profile discussed her unique take on “traditional” fashion– she opts for an on-stage style of primarily black and white, to symbolize and remember her family’s working-class and uniform-clad background (I’m sure she checked out the Coco & Breezy story for inspiration), and her own standards on beauty, body image and sex appeal. She lets her art do the sensual work, not her body outright: “I want to redefine what it means to be sexy ad what it means to be a woman. Showing my skin is not what makes me sexy. I like skirts and dresses just like everyone else, but I had a message I needed to put out there. It was up to me to show people and young girls there was another way.”

Also, that “Monae” coiffure is from the Gods.

Required viewing: “Tightrope”, Janelle Monae

Mama’s Business: The Mother’s Day treatment

As I read the Q and A from parents and experts in ESSENCE’s Mother’s Day package, I expected to hear the gone-but-not-forgotten shrewd (and unproductive) rationale of my grandmother’s generation: “Because I said so, dammit.” When a mother spewed about her daughter wanting to go on the Pill, the response read, “Encourage your daughter to tell you what’s on her mind.” Whoa. The notion of a mother genuinely inquiring about her daughter’s thoughts, let alone listening to them is still too foreign a concept. Cue the “no pill because I said so, dammit.” That attitude can lead to a child feeling judged, and out of  fear of judgement the daughter (or son, really. They need BC, too) can become much more secretive and distant, which can get young folks into 7 pound, 10 oz mistakes.

But my not-so-inner “Oreo” was BEAMING over this Q and A: A mum raised concerns about her son hanging out with white kids. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The response was genius:

1. Don’t judge. Just don’t’. It’s not the same as disapproval. Disapproval is, “I don’t think you’re making the correct or best choice, so I don’t agree.” Judging is, “You’re not capable of making the right choice, it’s a reflection of your character and your decision-making is terrible.” Note the difference.

2. As the respondent says, our children must navigate in “increasingly multicultural circles”. Consider the fact that racial development and awareness aren’t stagnant, and continue to form during our most formative years. What the child thinks of herself or himself, and what she believes she can bring to a friendship matter more than the optics of it. ❤

If you liked this random bout of mag lovin’, let me know and I’ll turn it into a regular feature! Just wanted to spread a bit of sunshine…without all that awkward “step mom plotting to kill husband” foolishness. That reminds me. See Pippin. Support Patina Miller. 


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