I’m so honored to introduce myself to you as the president of Essence magazine. It has been my good fortune to be a part of the Essence family for the past four years, serving as group publisher. In that time, my love and respect for Essence and its mission have only grown. Going forward, I pledge to work shoulder to shoulder with my talented and dedicated colleagues to help shape and strengthen our business so that we can continue to deliver on our mission to empower Black women, giving them the information and support they need to live their best, most joyful lives.
My introduction to Essence came in my grandmother’s hair salon when I was just a little girl in Dayton, where my brothers and I were born. In that salon were issues of Essence alongside other publications. I remember being struck by the beautiful images of Black women on its pages and the way they reflected the world I knew in the salon.
Later, as I pored over stories in the magazine, I began to realize that Essence offered Black women not only positive reflections of themselves but also workable strategies for improving their lives. The articles addressed the concerns my grandmother’s clients animatedly discussed during their weekly salon visits—how to foster loving relationships, raise purposeful children, start a business, give service at church, better themselves through education, nurture a community, and take care of themselves. What a gift to Black women!
Those days with my grandmother taught me valuable lessons about community. At the same time, my hardworking and independent-minded mother, Charlotte Smith, was providing lessons of her own. She worked for the city’s housing and neighborhood affairs office, supervising economic and financial-assistance programs. Each morning she would leave for work looking, to my adoring eyes, as resplendent as the women on the pages of Essence. With her style, confidence and industrious spirit, she was my first role model.
For his part, my father, Thomas K. Washington, Sr., taught me about service to our community. He owned a chain of dry cleaners and was active in local politics. Through him I learned the importance of grassroots activism. I must have been 10 years old when he stuck a sheaf of Shirley Chisholm for President fliers into my hands and took me onto the streets of Miami (where we then lived) to campaign for the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968, and the first African-American woman to run for president in 1972. These remarkable and accomplished people—my grandmother, my parents and pioneers like Shirley Chisholm—have been my greatest inspirations.
Now that I am married and the mother of two wonderful sons, I know what it means to juggle work and family, and I appreciate Essence even more. I draw strength from my family as I move into my new role here. Each month, Essence still delights, teaches and challenges me. Through 35 extraordinary years, it has been, as a colleague of mine once said, “a magazine that never disappoints.”
My personal mission as president is to make sure that these words will always ring true. And they will, as long as you, our readers, remain front and center in our vision and in our hearts. The stronger you are, the more joyful and successful, the more you embrace your own beauty and boundless spirit, the more we all will thrive.
I promise you that Essence will remain the supportive friend it has always been, and I thank Edward Lewis, our chairman, for the challenge and the opportunity to do my part. In Essence’s pages we all will continue to find everything we need to march into the next 35 years—a world of Black women, and men, even more amazing than we are today.
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