The first major magazine to agree to publish me was Essence. I’d been out of college and in New York for a few months and somehow I’d met some Essence editor. The sister was willing to listen to a young Black man who’d never been published, she was curious about what I had to say and a few months later she ran my essay about being bullied by other Black kids at college.
Essence was there for me when I was a nobody begging for a chance. But before I encountered the people of Essence I just knew that if anyone would give an unknown Black writer a shot it would be them. Essence is symbolized by a modern, worldly, cosmopolitan classiness. The tone for all that was set by Susan Taylor, the editor in chief from 1981-2000. She was elegant and gorgeous and regal and at the helm of an exceptional magazine that mattered to people.
In the 80s, the Buppified 80s, as the Black middle class expanded and needed a way to articulate the Blackness they experienced, Susan Taylor and Essence were there before the Cosby Show, Whitney Houston, and Mo Betta Blues to detail a cool, community-minded middle class Blackness. Because the truth of it is only some of us get a shot to slip through the crack and make our way to the middle class. Those who don’t can sometimes feel like they are going to be abandoned.
Back in the days of segregation all the classes lived together in Black neighborhoods. No more. So if the Black middle class expands would that mean folk would expand away from Blackness itself and forget where they came from?
Essence was a magazine that said hell no. It was a lifestyle publication that spoke of Blackness in a middle class context that made it clear that here was no reason why the two couldn’t and shouldn’t fit together. Essence has served an important role in the community and I’m thankful they looked out for me when no one else did but they were helping me long before that.