She was at the helm of the nation’s largest Black magazine for nearly four decades, and through it all, Susan L. Taylor — ESSENCE’s former Editor-in-Chief and publications director — developed a knack for helping families of color with healing words and helpful action.
In 2007, after stepping away from the matriarch of Black women’s magazines, Taylor continued pursuing her passion for community care. Now, as the founder and CEO of National CARES Mentoring Movement, she works to galvanize Black mentors to assist in the recovery and advancement of Black children around the country who are adversely affected by poverty.
For her efforts in progressing and empowering African-Americans around the nation, the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps is honoring Taylor with the Embracing the Legacy Award on June 9. During a recent interview with ESSENCE, Taylor expressed her enthusiasm for receiving the honor.
“I am so excited about the work that they are doing because it's rare that you find an agency that has been in service for nearly 50 years, that is really focused on ensuring that children who are living in poverty and who need support are not just in that pipeline to prison. There's a lot of rhetoric out here, a lot of talk about giving young people opportunity. Just looking so deeply into the RFK Children's Action Corps, I can see that they are really, really living that mandate. I'm excited about that. That they stand for social justice for people who are in poverty. That is a critical need in this nation, so I'm honored," Taylor said.
Since its inception in 2006, the charitable organization — which started out as ESSENCE Cares during Taylor’s tenure at the magazine — has secured over 130,000 mentors in 58 cities across the country.
“We've built and replicated, to a certain degree, transformational consciousness shifting programs that help young people who are trapped in a cycle of poverty, a generational cycle of poverty, to overcome the effects of poverty,” Taylor told ESSENCE.
Taylor asserts that the fast-growing movement continues to take on new endeavors to uniquely address the challenges of communities that go beyond the average, middle-class person’s view.
In addition to violence, the full-time philanthropist says other factors are contributing to the deterioration of Black neighborhoods.
“It's hunger. It's homelessness often. It's underfunded, under-resourced schools. It's abuse beyond the chilling. It's having overwhelmed parents and caregivers. Those are the things that young people are struggling with beyond our view.”
With that in mind, the organization built a program called The Rising to elevate education, expectations and self-esteem. Taylor refers to it as “an all-school transformational model that is changing lives.” The program has yielded positive results in Chicago, Detroit and South Florida, and will be debiting in Newark, New Jersey in the near future.
In addition to the learning and evidence-based programs that have been piloted in select cities, the National CARES Mentoring Movement also provides a network of support. Recently the organization launched an introductory platform in Atlanta to equip parents with the necessary tools and resources needed to better themselves and families.
“We're going to get our children. We're going to surround them with light and love and the system that they need to advance,” Taylor said of the initiative.
Watching families flourish is essentially what makes Taylor’s job as CEO of the organization so rewarding.
“Parents really just need support and not to be blamed and not to have fingers pointed at them. Their gratitude and the gratitude of young people is more than enough. We're not even looking for gratitude. What we want is really transformation,” said the journalist turned philanthropist.
Although Taylor has found her heart’s calling through mentoring, she hasn’t forgotten the legacy brand that made her a household name.
“Everything, everything that I've learned in my 37 years at ESSENCE served this mission today. Learning how to edit, learning how to speak to people's hearts, learning how to engage African-Americans, understanding how to work with a team, how to lead a team, how to be part of a team, stepping into communities around the nation and various parts of the world — to the Black world — put me in touch with our communities, with our culture and with our people.”