5 Years After ESSENCE’s #BlackOut, America Is Still In A Racial Crisis
JD Barnes

Today is déjà vu as black tiles flood social media in support of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, three Black Americans who lost their lives due to the systemic racism boiling in America.

Five years ago, Black America was mourning too. Although the 2012 death of Trayon Martin still felt fresh in our hearts, we were processing the deaths of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice—three Black men who had been killed by the hand of a White police officer in 2014.

News of Rice’s murder, which happened on November 22, came as ESSENCE was in production for its February 2015 issue. The theme was love and legacy and we were finalizing which hot couple we’d photograph. But the editors didn’t feel much like celebrating romance. We were in pain. We were angry. We were tired.

Then editor-in-chief Vanessa de Luca walked into her creative director’s office and threw out an idea. “What if we go black?” remembers Erika Perry, ESSENCE creative director in 2015. “It was Black History Month, and after she said it, we couldn’t have imagined doing anything else at that point.”

5 Years After ESSENCE’s #BlackOut, America Is Still In A Racial Crisis

For the first time in ESSENCE’s 45 year history, we didn’t feature a person on the cover. Said Perry, “I only questioned whether we’d have a completely black cover or have cover lines to shape our message.” There was only one sentence we wanted to send far and wide: Black. Lives. Matter.

The cover, released in mid-January, went viral. Readers, organizations and media applauded our boldness. On MSNBC, de Luca explained our urgency to document our collective feeling. She said, “We wanted to make sure we captured this tipping point in our history, but not just Black history, but American history.”

Thought leaders, activists, celebrities, politicos, journalists and authors wrote essays on “What We Must Do Now.” Voices included: Angela Davis, John Legend, Michele Alexander, Rev. Al Sharpton and more.

As journalists, and more importantly as Black women, we declared America’s deep problem with racial injustice. Today, we’re still reporting how this country’s systemic racism kills people of color. Today we’re mourning new names of Americans murdered for being Black. Today we amplify George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Today, and every day, we shout Black lives matter.