I will never forget that day 35 years ago when the first issue of Essence called to me from the corner newsstand. Stunned, I did a double take. May 1970, the sweet promise of summer in the air. A copper-brown cover model, in an Afro as big and bold as a sunflower, proudly proclaimed the spirit of the time: Black is beautiful! I read that first issue hungrily. I rushed, then lingered, marveled and celebrated. Essence was exhilarating, bold and long overdue. Nothing like this ever was. Page after beautiful page devoted to Black women-our beauty, style and vitality, our relationships, finances and careers, the Black Power Movement! Respect and reverence suffused every article, illumined every image. On an errand to get a newspaper, I’d found a magazine with all the news I needed and a reflection of a self I’d not yet seen.
For the past 35 years, Essence has showcased all that is magnificent about the women of our race, the grace and grit that have helped us survive and prosper in the face of oppression. Essence has been a space for sharing our stories and considering our own lives. Here Black women have learned to cherish our looks-our color, hair, lips and hips. Here our voices have become clearer, more present, more powerful.
The powerful voices in Essence, writers, rich in their diversity, have left their mark on Black women’s lives. Their wisdom has helped shape, define, and liberate us. Their truth has laid to rest the myths that slandered us. Their courage has encouraged us. Their stories of survival have shored us up. Their creativity has been our inspiration. Their frank perspectives on sexuality, men, mothering, work, money and more have given us expansive new ways of thinking about our lives. We’ve learned that our landscapes are ours to design, that we can shift and shape our reality.
Essence debuted with 50,000 readers. Today more than 7 million sisters and brothers-men are nearly 25 percent of our audience-read the magazine each month. The transformation of Essence parallels that of Black women. Jubilation and turmoil behind the scenes, consistent hard work and diligence, amazing creativity, commitment, the joy of collaboration, painful conflicts, partnership breakups, tears, laughter, learning and love-all have been part of the journey.
We are so fortunate to be who we are-born Black and female in our time, emboldened by the breadth of possibilities before us and growing in wisdom, faith and love. Like you, I have turned these pages through chapters of my life and thrilled to the Black woman’s shared unfolding story: young at heart, wise in time, always striving, always beautiful. Here’s to Essence. Here’s to you.
Susan L. Taylor