Building America the Beautiful
Susan Taylor is an author, activist, and the Founder & CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement. Chanda sat down with Susan to discuss the importance of healing from trauma, the barriers we need to break down, and Susan’s time as Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:00
Hello, this is Chanda Smith Baker. Today’s conversation I’m so excited about it, it is a conversation with Dr. Susan Taylor, Susan Taylor, the editor in chief formerly of essence, she has moved on to make a tremendous difference in our community across the country with young people and bringing mentorship to them to support their overall success. This was a conversation with a legend. It was just a delight to be with her. I hope you enjoy it and feel my admiration of her, her work, and her legacy come through.
Souphak Kienitz 00:35
You’re listening to Conversations with Chanda a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s radius, most vexing problems hosted by Chanda Smith Baker.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:47
I am here, Conversations with Chanda with the Susan Taylor, thank you so much for being here.
Susan Taylor 00:55
You know, it’s my joy. I’ve been longing to do this. And here we are.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:59
Here we are, we have been committing our lives towards working hard on behalf of our community. And we have listeners that are feeling tired and looking for ways to replenish, to be in connection to find others that understand what they are navigating in the world. And I just thought we would just start out that way. Since we just had a conversation as we entered. I heard you take that deep breath. Are you feeling it? Like I’m feeling it?
Susan Taylor 01:33
You know I am. And what I’m realizing is that we never catch up? Yeah, you know, so I think that’s something that we have to hold, and discipline ourselves enough to really put at the top of the to do list first of all ourselves, you know, self first and then what I say to the team at the National Cares Mentoring Movement is sell first, and then family and then community. And you can serve the community through the National Cares Mentoring Movement. But we know if that if we don’t take care of ourselves, we don’t serve well. I don’t like myself when I’m not. When I’m stressed. And overwhelmed, because I’m not crying. I’m not a kind wife. I’m not a kind mother. I’m not a kind friend or a good leader. But it’s remembering these things. That is really the challenge.
Chanda Smith Baker 02:19
We were in a conversation earlier. And there was a brief conversation about the ego. And I hear often folks, particularly that work in the social sector, that say, and that’s because I’m that’s who I’m around, let’s say well, I can’t take time off, because who else is going to do the work. And so, what you’re suggesting here is that you will be doing the work, but it won’t be your best work.
Susan Taylor 02:43
It won’t be the best work. And I remember something that a woman by the name of Ann Fudge before your time, probably. But Ann was the president of Maxwell House. This is a sister of black woman who I was on a spa retreat with and there we were, they were all around the pool having a good time. And I was on the phone calling in changes. This is before, you know, we had the capacity like of the internet and everything. And I’m calling and changes at the magazine and she said what are you doing? I said I have to do this work. I said how do you leave Maxwell House, I’m running a magazine. But you’re the president of Maxwell House, the CEO. And she said if I have to while I’m on vacation, go back to work and do the work that I in that I really assigned to others that I have the wrong team. I never forgot that. I don’t know that it informed my work habits. But it’s really true. You know. And so, it’s really a discipline to know when to pull back and to really schedule time for ourselves to restore. And that’s what I’m still working on. I’ve written about it. I’ve written three books about it. Maybe four edited hundreds of articles about it. But knowing it and practicing it, two different things. In the spirit was my column that I wrote for 27 of my 37 years of essence, you know, and a lot of it was about self-care.
Chanda Smith Baker 04:01
Yeah and what led you to essence,
Susan Taylor 04:03
you know, interesting story for me. I am. I hadn’t gone to college. After high school, I wanted to be an actress. And so I headed for the theater area and started studying theater and started getting parts I was on As the World Turns. I had a recurring role. And I mean, I was really honored and then I ended up doing a film with Mia Farrow and, and Dustin Hoffman and then I landed on Broadway, understudying Paula Kelly, the Lead Actress in a three-character play. And I want to tell you, I could never get that inane part in my head. And I remember saying, Lord, if you let me out of this one, I’m gonna find my me today because it’s definitely not this right. Because had she gotten ill I never, ever would have been able to step onto that stage. So, I was the only person who was happy that the play closed on opening night. And with that, you know, I went to beauty school I was married at the time to a person who had beauty salons, and I started one of the first cosmetics companies for black women, that led me to Essence magazine, because women who had journalism degrees weren’t interested in writing about anything as mundane, seen at the time, the height of the Black Power movement 1970 You know anything as mundane as beauty. But that’s how I got my foot in the door at Essence as a beauty editor than fashion and beauty editor. And then Editor in Chief,
Chanda Smith Baker 05:21
For all the barriers that you have broken, which are you the most proud of?
Susan Taylor 05:28
You know, I didn’t understand it fully when it was occurring. But the readers was so excited that I was a single mother, my marriage broke up when my daughter was six weeks old. So here I am, you know, I hadn’t gone to Essence yet. But shortly after that, I’m at Essence, and, you know, moving the magazine forward in the beauty and fashion area. And I’m raising this daughter, when I became editor in chief, I wrote about that a lot, you know, raising her solo and trying to balance and trying to find my way. And women were like, Oh, my God, that is so incredible that you’re doing is giving me the courage, you know, and a pathway that leads to my being able to do that as well. So, I would say that, being a single mother and I say to my daughter, we survived me, because Lord have mercy. What I didn’t know scares me now. But you know, we move through, and probably having a high-level job that was so demanding that required, well, now I look back on it, maybe it wasn’t seven days a week, but that’s what I gave it, you know, and raising my daughter on my own. I want to say that that was my probably the greatest triumph.
Chanda Smith Baker 06:30
I have a similar journey, although I was not in Essence. Okay, I was at the north side of Minneapolis trying to try to figure out and navigate. Right, and I think there’s lots of us that see being a single parent as a barrier to success, right? I work in the field where we are defining what’s possible for people in our language, we don’t realize that we’re always doing that, right. They’re a single mom, we have to figure out how to give them all these things in order for them, instead of they have dreams, right? How can we assist them, and they happen to be a single mom, we lead with the thing that we think are the barriers. And so, thank you for inspiring, because it is the stories and the modeling that I think bring us to those places.
Susan Taylor 07:19
it’s hard, we can’t minimize how difficult it is to not have a partner. That second income, you know, would have been wonderful. And having somebody to say, hey, you played with the baby today, you get it or you take your take her to school? Yeah, you know, so just balancing it all. And, you know, thank goodness for community and support, and other sisters and my mother, who really did help.
Chanda Smith Baker 07:41
So, the article and the modeling, you know, I recently was in the chief to chief an Essence. And it was a moment for me. And it was a moment, that was very emotional when it came out. And I realized it was because as a young girl, Essence, Ebony and Jet, were it. That is where I got to see the strength of black women, Essence and Ebony. Really, that’s how I connected. That’s how I got to see what else was beyond the doors that I was living in. And they were staples, and they are staples in our community. Did you realize I mean, not just the importance of the article. But did you realize the importance of Essence as that brand, and what it was doing, because it’s shaped so many of us?
Susan Taylor 08:32
Not at all. Not at all, you know, when you’re doing the work, you’re doing the work. And there’s something about the magazine industry, you always have three or four issues going at the same time. So, you have the one that you’re maybe shooting the one you’re planning the one you’re thinking about the one that’s going to press, and you’re moving from one to the other. And I’ll tell you something that I that I do, and congratulations on that wonderful Essence story that we don’t pause to step back and say, This is what I’m building, and hey, this is pretty good. I really enjoy that and celebrate ourselves for it. And one another the team, we just it’s the grind, which is moving from one thing to another. I don’t want to work like that anymore. And I’m really trying to find a way not to. So, in essence, no, we had no idea. You know, the impact we were having. But I have to say that, you know, Marcia Ann Gillespie was the editor in chief when I want oh she wasn’t when I became editor in chief. She had just stepped down. But there was another woman who was there before her Ida Louis who really hired me, and Ida was a phenomenal leader. And she really took time to celebrate the team and for us to have a philosophy and Marcia grounded that so that every Tuesday I was able to gather the team in my office and remind us, you know about why we were here. We were here for the forward movement of black women. Because we know when black women thrive, the children thrive. The men in the community thrive. All the genders throughout we hope, you know we have, there’s some stuff that we really have to address, but also the community thrives. So that was a philosophy that was driving us forward. But I don’t think we will looking back to see the changes that were happening as we embrace our beauty, our color our hips, our lips, and just began to love being black women. But our voices, that was I think the, one of the most important thing, certainly identity, yes, our looks, our hair, all the variations in which we could shape it, but also having the voices of Audrey Lorde and Alice Walker and, you know, Octavia Butler, and Angela Davis and so many phenomenal women that now had a forum, a place where black women in the black community knew they could turn and hear and grow from.
Chanda Smith Baker 10:50
So when I think about just representation, right, being able to pick up a magazine and see something that looks like me, or to go into a store and buy the baby doll for my daughter. Right? When I think about how intentional I’ve had to be and where I go, and the network to find those items. You know, just listening to you. I’m wondering, because we’re still having conversations around the importance of representation. Do you see do you see progress in that?
Susan Taylor 11:21
Absolutely. You don’t have to search today, as you did you know what we’re talking as I joined Essence, 52 years ago, you know, it was 1970. And we had to search for everything, the books, and that’s what made Essence really this repository of the things that really black women, black people needed, the brothers embraced Essence, you know, of our 8 million readers, I want to say 29% were men, which was stunning. And it wasn’t, you know, they would say they would follow the cover back and say, oh, you know, I’m not really reading a woman’s magazine. But I want to see the pretty women what was more than that, the content. You know, from the very beginning, there was a philosophy that was moving Essence ahead. And it was a philosophy that might not have been available in the other publications at the time. Because Essence could be political in a way that maybe the other magazines were not, you know, but I mean, John Johnson Ebony magazine, The Godfather, the grandfather, yeah, you know, we will following in his footsteps in his wake. And there wasn’t a time that I went to Chicago that I didn’t, you know, try to sit at his knee and learn something. But today, you don’t have to search for that black doll. You can go online and find a coterie of them. You don’t have to search for black literature and books that really represent our children. Well, you don’t have to search for somebody to braid your hair. You know, the abrade is everywhere.
Chanda Smith Baker 12:49
Things have changed a lot, how about in journalism, you know, for trees on the staff that you just walked by? And she said, I want to know, like, from her perspective, right, like, have we regressed in terms of journalism, right, like we see more like social media and the impact like every regressed? Is the reporting the same quality with the same intention? I want to know ask her that question.
Susan Taylor 13:11
You know, I would say we have to look in the mirror, because we’ve not supported Black Media in a way that we should have supported it. Ebony Magazine is not publishing a magazine anymore. It’s online. Black Enterprise is not publishing a magazine anymore. It’s online. And we look at all the black brands that have been in the dust. Essence is publishing now, by monthly. But I hear that coming back to the monthly but the cash cow there is really the music festival. So, you have you know, women who are and men who are phenomenally trained, and they find journalists. But do the newspapers, look at the diminution of newspapers? Where are you going to work? And who’s going to look at our history and culture and frame our issues? If we don’t have black people with some power, you can find us in some places with power. But when you look at journalism as a whole, you’re not going to find black women, black men, in places where they really can dictate what’s happening and the perspective you see that primarily on television, no matter what city you’re in, you know, as they say, if it bleeds, it leads, and it’s always that painful black story. And we forget that media organizations, television, networks, their businesses, and they make money when eyeballs are trained on them. So, we’re looking for a different kind of value system that I would say guided Essence and it also guided Black Enterprise and it guided Ebony we were for the community we offer the community but outside of our race, the general market media, not I mean, you’re hard pressed to find those that are really for the community. So, I think it’s there are fewer places where black people can have really packed real power like we did, at Essence and do but it’s such a small staff. It’s a somewhat a much smaller set, my heart breaks for them, that they can’t do the trips around the world. I mean, how many times that we go to our Motherland, I’m thinking about when Zimbabwe was celebrating its first anniversary, we were there. And we were there to report on it when Winnie and Nelson Mandela when he walked out of that prison, we were there with journalists, the resources are not there today, the black media to cover those things in a way that we did.
Chanda Smith Baker 15:35
And so, for the listeners that want to support black, you know, enterprises, Black Business, black narratives, positive narratives that are happening, they should be investing in resources like Ebony and Essence and Black Enterprise.
Susan Taylor 15:48
And local newspapers and local newspapers and local black newspapers. I mean, they’re the drum. You want to know what’s going on in your community. Whether you live there now or not.
Chanda Smith Baker 15:56
Yeah,fair point. Yeah, we’ve got AdSense and inside and North news in our city. Yeah, very fair point. And Caroline Wanga?
Susan Taylor 16:05
Yes. Yeah, absolutely phenomenal. So she’s now in New York City, you know, and doing a phenomenal job. She’s a fine leader.
Chanda Smith Baker 16:15
Yeah, she is. And I’m hoping that we will get back to that she will bring it back to being able to show up in the motherland, and all the places that we should be at assets.
Susan Taylor 16:26
Richelieu, you know? Yeah, the person who purchased this is dedicated to the diaspora to knitting us together. You know, our sisters and brothers who are in our Motherland who in the Caribbean, who are in the United States and throughout Europe, and I think that’s the big vision. And I see it being realized through the coverage.
Chanda Smith Baker 16:48
That’s interesting, because Richelieu is Liberian, and Caroline is Kenyan, he’s the owner, she is running Essence for black folks. And I know that there’s been conversations and we have it all the time. Are you a descendant of slavery or a mean, like these divisions that we have in our community? And do you see an opportunity, right, in that vision? Was that awareness or tension there? When you were there? Do you feel it? Or have you felt it?
Susan Taylor 17:20
You know, I see myself today as a bridge. And I think Essence was that too. It was only the vision of our leaders, those who preceded me and under my leadership too on the team I was working with that said, you know, we’re going to the motherland. And we’re going to shoot fashion in Senegal, you know, and we’re going to cover Ghana. So we went to Ghana, which many African Americans see as their, you know, homeland, not knowing at that time, where we really which countries we came from. And I’ll tell you, we took a 16-member crew, to Ghana, including stylists and fashion folks, and just everybody got there with trunks of clothing. I went on a site visit with the photographers. And I’m looking at this magic walking through the streets, people in these booboos in these chocolate women with their hands headed, and it’s sitting on the floor, and they have shoe sticks in their mouths, cleaning the teeth in the marketplace. And I said there is nothing that we have in those trucks that can compare with what I’m seeing walking through the streets. We sent the models home, we close up the trucks. And we photographed the people of Ghana. And then what we did in this as a consciousness, you know, what we did was we gave the pamphlet because it was that that we created to the Ghanaians and said use this as your marketing tool. This is what you want to do. This is how you can give people the incentive to come and visit the country. So, it’s a, it’s a consciousness that emerged during the black, the Black Power movement. When I think we began breaking down those barriers. The barrier that I would like to see broken down right now is one of classism. And I do see myself as a bridge in I’m not afraid of my folk in the community. I grew up in the community, I come from the community, and it’s my responsibility to help but even restore because the community has never thrived in a way that it should, you know, have thrived we’ve always we’ve always been under resourced.
Chanda Smith Baker 19:15
Are you framing that around what black like the classism that exists within the black community or the broader community. Meaning that like once you have reached a certain class, you are not thinking about what’s happening in the urban community.
Susan Taylor 19:31
Most of us, most of us are not, you know, and this is what I see. You know, I’m saying there’s no reason for small nonprofits, not cares, you know, cares. We were in 58 cities, you know, including Minneapolis, St. Paul cares. And we have Darlene and Curtis Bell. They’re doing great work. But I mean to try to get a more stable black folks to go into schools and teach our young people how to read. Only 15% of black children in the United States of America are reading at or above grade level 15% it, and we’re not talking about 15% of those and under resourced schools are talking about across the board. I mean, what are our faith institutions doing, I feel that I shouldn’t even be doing this work. If our faith institutions were really monitoring and looking at what’s happening, you know, in our school systems, I think they’d be keeping report cards, they would make sure that those who we elect to political office, have a will have a mandate from the community, this is what our children need. And I don’t see that kind of organizing taking place. That doesn’t mean it’s not taking place anywhere. But I can’t think of one underserved, overwhelmed community that has transitioned into full capacity, self-supporting without it being gentrified, and black people being removed. That’s what I’m looking for. But I have to live there. You have to get this way. You remember you emerged from we have to care about one another. I love the way that Gwendolyn Brooks the first, you know, person, black persons receive a Pulitzer Prize said it, she said we are each other’s keeper. We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s magnitude and bond. And that’s really what we have to have to rebuild. Now, just finally, I think, so much of what we had, and we can romanticize what we had on our motherland. But so much was lost. We lost family connections, which mean everything to people of African ancestry and to all people, we lost family, we lost foodways, we lost our names, country of origin, our religion, we lost our children, we lost one another. So, I think what we’re doing is remaking ourselves. And we have to do it intentionally.
Chanda Smith Baker 21:48
You just brought up the spirit of my mother. Because my mother growing up would say, communities a place you invest in that move from.
Susan Taylor 21:57
I’ll be quoting her? Yes.
Chanda Smith Baker 22:00
Yes, my mother. And she would say if you move from there, that’s one thing, but you never move from there in your deeds. Right? You continue to invest your time in the place that you are from, right, you don’t disconnect yourself from the people. Right? And no matter how smart, pretty, successful, there’s always someone else that has more of those things. And there’s someone that would have more if they had the infrastructure and the support, and the systems that help them achieve it. Don’t ever think of yourself as exceptional.
Susan Taylor 22:33
So true, that’s profound. And don’t you long for that? That our being more bridge like, yeah, so this is what we do with, you know, this community is going to take over that school, not take over, but we’re going to support that school, we’re going to make sure that the children have computers that they have books, that the teachers are not overwhelmed that they have the training they need, you know, sometimes, sometimes not the best teachers, those who are most equipped, are assigned to our schools, you know, in the inner city sometimes, then you have those teachers who grew up in that community who just want to go back and serve and they are the best. And we know that educators are the most underpaid professionals in the nation. Don’t you longed to see more able stable black people be involved in the recovery of our community? We are the most highly educated and privileged black people on Earth, what can’t we do? And I always say, what’s the plan? What is the plan that includes us all? Not just your family, you know, and your family and friends? But what is the plan that will absolutely lift our people out of poverty? This is not nuclear physics. It’s possible to do. We could start with education and health care. How do we ensure that, you know, I’m not the expert. But here I’ve dived in through the National kids metric movement. You know what I mean? I didn’t even have a great education. So in spaces, I’m feeling insecure. You know, I grew up going to underserved and overwhelmed school and graduated from high school and didn’t go to college. Immediately. I went back, but I was already the editor in chief of the magazine, you know, and then on to Union Theological Seminary. I didn’t complete the course, but I went, you know, but at least there were people at Essence who really guided me and mentored me. And I remember Marcia Gillespie saying, if you can speak and you can speak, you can write Oh, I needed to hear that. Yeah.
Chanda Smith Baker 24:34
I don’t even know where to go. Because part of my question is around having people that are listening, understand what it does to be a child and under resourced school.
Susan Taylor 24:48
Okay. You know, I thought I knew until I started putting these big size elevens on the ground, in our community, not just writing knew about it. But going into those schools and seeing young people who were leaving shelters to come to school, young people who didn’t have a place for their clothing to be cleaned, young people who were hearing gunshots all night long who couldn’t sleep? Well, you know, during the COVID shutdown of schools, there was a lot of conversation about what our children were going to have. They were children who were living in communities that didn’t have Wi Fi service. And we forget about rural people, you know, of every color, but we forget about black rural people totally, you know, so those young people didn’t have computers didn’t have Wi Fi service, couldn’t connect them, what they lost is probably incalculable. But it doesn’t mean that it’s lost forever. The question is, let’s look in the mirror, what is our assignment? That’s what I asked myself. And, you know, after Katrina devastated New Orleans, I said to the Essence, family, we just can’t go back to New Orleans and do what we’ve done, we have to do something else. And I was on the west coast, the East Coast rather, of Africa. And I just asked the Holy Spirit, what should I do? What should we do? And you know, the answer came back, mentor, just get people to go into the communities and encourage our young people propel them, give them the hope that they need, it’s there, but it has to be on earth. You know, we’re not giving anybody anything. We’re on earthing, what is already there, their brilliance and their talent, and helping them to understand that they that they matter, because a lot of young African Americans feel that they are targeted, and that they don’t matter.
Chanda Smith Baker 26:39
Minnesota, it’s been tough. It’s been tough. And there’s still a debate on, you know, Black Lives Matters. We have a teacher’s contract right now, that’s been in national news, because the contract is elevating the hiring and retention of black educators. And when there’s a choice, we’re leaning towards black in that contract, right. It’s complicated. But it feels like there’s so many things that are racialized, and yet, there’s so many people that are been committing their work, to addressing the disparity, right to doing the work. But then we’re still racializing and comparing and pitting in ways that I don’t think is useful towards the movement forward.
Susan Taylor 27:22
No, I think essentially, we don’t know the history. We don’t know the history, if we really and I mean this. If it was if the history of this nation, the truth of the nation were taught, then people would have another understanding the truth of this nation, and what happened is, we know, what was taken from the indigenous people is a harsh story. What happened to African people to go along the coast of South Africa, not only to go into the hinterland, I mean, into the, you know, the hinterlands and to put people in chains and muzzles, you know, tether them to one another and walk them hundreds of miles to the shore. And, you know, I visited many times, the slave dungeons and the last time I was there was with the Congressional Black Caucus, and Nancy Pelosi decided she wanted to go. And I was asking my friends in the CBC is that she just wants to go, and I’m looking at Nancy Pelosi, who’s in tears, because this is a first knowing so deep about what our arrival costs. That’s what I think about every day, I’m looking at a, an area that’s probably no wider than this, that the enslaved Africans had to pass through in order to get into robots to take them out to the largest ships waiting for them for this middle passage, you know? And I’m like, well, how could they, because they weren’t going to feed you so that you couldn’t resist. It’s a hard history to own. So, we’re going to name all of that critical race theory and shut it down. But we can’t heal. This nation cannot heal. Without the truth. We know you’re not giving back all the land to the indigenous people. Reparations, yes, fix education, ensure that health education and, and health care are made available to everyone. And there are other things. I’m not a reparations expert. And a lot of people are looking at this. But if we knew the history, there’d be greater sensitivity and understanding. But there is a real move to ensure that the truth of the history is unknown.
Chanda Smith Baker 29:32
I was in North High School last year and there was a moment, and I can’t even remember what the incident was because there were many incidents that have happened last year, in our community and in that community specifically, and they had a celebration and the principal got up. And she said, I want you to know that you all came from kings and queens, that you came from those who survived. Right? You’ve come from strength, you’ve come from greatness. Right? You have come from places and people that you don’t know. But their Spirit is in you. And because of it, you are great. And she just went on, and you could just feel the sense of pride in that room. And I don’t remember the last time I’ve been in a school setting, when I have heard that acknowledgement of history, the acknowledgement of greatness in that way, collectively, not a handful, but collectively, it was beautiful, and you could feel it.
Susan Taylor 30:35
That’s the counterbalance to the to what we see on the nightly news. You know, our young people are saying, we feel targeted, we’re always being followed. We’re suspicious, you know, if I go into I look like a home girl, when I’m going shopping, I’m not trying to look cute. Oh, no, I’m serious. I mean, I have on my sneakers and cap, and I’m going in there. And um, and you know, you have people looking at you like, Oh, is she coming in here that it’s some the media really speak louder than mother, then then teachers, because we’re being impressed with these images, day after day after day after day. I’m so proud of today’s young people, so many of them are awakened, and they are serious. And they want more than just corporate jobs. They want entrepreneurship, and ownership. And they want to be their authentic selves. If they’re in that corporate space, without being disrespected, it’s difficult. And so much of our work is really it’s a prophylactic for that. And that no matter what they say about you, or how people treat you, you have to know who you are. And that’s really how our curriculum is shaped, you know, with history and spirituality and wealth building and relationships. How are we supposed to be married? How are we supposed to partner? Who where would we have seen that done? Well, the few people no matter what the races are, you know. So, this is something that is known. We know a lot about black child development and child development. These are things that should be taught, so that we’re not wounding that next generation and passing on the trauma that lives in us. And it’s alive.
Chanda Smith Baker 32:21
It is alive. So the national cares movement. So you were in Africa, you had a vision. You wanted to move into mentoring. You’ve mentioned it a couple of times in our conversation. So how so you just came home and got to work.
Susan Taylor 32:38
That’s the kind of power we want to have. And many of us do. Yeah, we came back on I said that the Essence family, we have to do something different. We’re going to go back and we’re going to create empowerment seminars. And I remember something that Hakeem Mata booty, the founder of third world press, and two charter schools that are cultural schools, you know, that he did he used to bring for the National Black holistic society, African American men had created that you bring these wonderful speakers upstate New York, and I said, that’s what I’m going to do with the Essence festival. I’m going to bring some of the best speakers to speak about the things that we need spirituality relationships. Well, I planned it for about 200 people and 500 showed up on a rainy day. So the next year, I planned it for about 1000 people and 3000 showed up. And what I saw was that we could take men, separate them, send them upstairs in the Morial Convention Center, and have them talk about the things that they needed and what they were feeling in a safe space, led by men who weren’t afraid to cry and feel, which opened the way for our men to do what is so hard for them. And that’s to tell the truth about what they’re feeling and thinking. And the women would stay with thousands of women there. And then we come back and report on a journalism report on it before the the larger audience and that those empowerment seminars continued today, and they’ve grown to the point where, oh, my gosh, there are hundreds of 1000s of people who attend. So, there’s a way, you know, Jesse Jackson used to say you will understand entertainment, we can entertain and also educate at the same time. And I think that’s what has to be figured out.
Chanda Smith Baker 34:17
Yeah, let’s talk about the National Cares Movement. It’s something that you believe deeply in, I had an opportunity to meet the folks that you’re investing in in Minneapolis, Darlene Bell and Curtis bell. And they have fostered many kids. They’re incredible. And I guess I felt so familiar with them, because I was just familiar with how many young people they’ve supported in our community.
Susan Taylor 34:43
That’s who they are. And they shouldn’t have to work so hard to get others involved. That’s the frustration in this word. I’m not going to be frustrated, but we have to understand it. We’re not asking people to give up their homes or to move folks in and to be adoptive or foster parents like you know, Darlene and Curtis, but we’re saying, Can you give an hour a week? To just sit with a young person and encourage them? Would you set the principal, you know, said to students to remind them of who they are to give them a book to read, if they’re having difficulty reading to help them, you know, to help them understand maybe what their parents have been through. This is a lot of demonization of poor people. And poor parents and people. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, Oh, my, it’s the parents, it’s the parents, it’s the parents, you know, oh, it’s like, you know, it could have been me. That’s all I’m saying. It could have been me. So the National Cares Mentoring movement, which was founded as Essence cares at the Essence Music Festival, I couldn’t let people use the name Essence. So that’s why we named it the National Cares Mentoring movement. And the first affiliate was in Atlanta. And now there are 58 affiliates across the country. And we do two things. We recruit mentors, we train them, and then deploy them. And we turn no mentor away, we just don’t want people who are able and middle class. And those are the folks who typically have time to mentor. We don’t want them to look down on young people who may not dress in a way that you find comfortable, whose nails may not be understood by you, and hairstyles may be too dramatic, you know, for your taste. But we want our people to be prepared to love them. And to ensure that they are given the capacity that they the capacity that is within them is on earth, so that they can graduate from high school and go off to college or an industrial training program and be self-supporting and live a life that is one that is economically mobile, that’s the goal. That is the goal and giving back to the community. Can’t forget where you came from. That’s it. So that’s what we’re doing around the country. And we need all, all hands on deck.
Chanda Smith Baker 36:47
All hands on deck, is it is it a kindergarten through 12th grade? Or is it high school or?
Susan Taylor 36:52
Well, we’re in schools, we’re now we’re in a couple of grammar schools, but primarily, it’s high schools across the country. But what we’re doing all across the country is the recruiting of mentors training and deploying. It’s not that we’re building programs and all schools and I’m saying no more brick and mortar. Because now with technology and with you know, the time we were shut down, we had psychology, our programs, all led by psychologists and social workers and volunteer mentors, because the trauma that young people are living with is deep and has to be understood and not minimized. You know, so when you’re trained as a mentor with the big mentoring organizations that are teaching you how to deal with trauma, we need professionals healing experts who know how to do that. And they are training on mentors. And the children are thriving. It’s so inspiring to see.
Chanda Smith Baker 37:41
I want to switch to talk about philanthropy just for a moment. And did you grow up knowing what philanthropy was?
Susan Taylor 37:47
Oh, absolutely not. Not at all.
Chanda Smith Baker 37:50
Yeah. When did you realize that you were a philanthropist?
Susan Taylor 37:55
When people started asking me for money, and I started acquiescing, okay, I can help I can I do this, I can donate. You know, I didn’t, I still don’t really consider myself a philanthropist. But people do. And it’s just giving to people what was given to me. You know, my father was an entrepreneur, he had a store that was on ground level, we lived in a tenement in Harlem, I was on the second floor, my brother and I was sleeping in the living room. And every single morning, six days a week, my father was, you know, raising that awning so that Larry’s Specialty Shop, his boutique, could open up, you know, but philanthropy it wasn’t part of the nomenclature. I had no idea what it meant. But that’s, that’s what’s needed. Right now, we have got to push our faith institutions, our divine nine sororities and fraternities, and all of our community organizations to really pay attention to those who are losing their way to our children who are off course, because their parents may not have the capacity to guide them. And I’m, I’m saying to young people all the time, they still parent who’s not wishing the best for his or her child, no parent, you know, none at all. And there’s a lot of forgiving to do. I wasn’t the perfect parent. I wish if there’s something I wish I could do. Oh, it’s really parent, my daughter. Now I know a lot more than I did back then. You know?
Chanda Smith Baker 39:21
Yeah, that’s a testimony right there. And I do think that we tend to judge other parents. And I don’t know a perfect one. I don’t know if you do. But no, no, no, perfect there. We sure judge a lot of parents and parents that are living through really hard conditions, and poverty.
Susan Taylor 39:39
There wss a young man, we were at a school we work at Southside of Chicago. And Tom Burrell, who built the largest black owned advertising agency in the world was there. He’s part of the team that helped us to build Windy City cares. You know, he said, Susan, the young man just came up to me and he said, I want to be like you Mr. Burrell, but my mother is addicted and the law library in my community has closed. And there’s no way for me to study, I can’t do my homework. So I ended up sitting in a urine infested stairwell, trying to do my homework because I dare not put my key in the door before my mother comes down from her afternoon high, anybody who’s addicted, that’s not fun, I give thanks every day, that I have no addictions. You know, that’s a hard thing. I mean, people have a hard time breaking a nicotine addiction. So a drug addiction, there should be places where people can go for that healing. So the opioid, you know, addictions have focused the nation, you know, on the treatment that’s needed, but not available, so in our communities as they should be. And now they’re not demonized outside of our race. But still within the race, there’s a demonization of people who are addicted to drugs. Come on, we can do better than this, you know what I feel that we’re really building, we can build America, the beautiful, this truth telling and lots of change that has to happen. We can build America, the beautiful, let’s make that real, by ensuring that everyone in this nation has an opportunity to thrive, their children who don’t, don’t have access, it’s access. That’s key, access, support motivation.
Chanda Smith Baker 41:24
You’ve been casting out a vision, with your words, this entire conversation, and it does feel like there’s a bit there’s a lack of a vision. There’s a lot of discussion on the problem. It feels like there’s a lack of vision for what we need in our community. So, I really appreciate hearing that.
Susan Taylor 41:42
Yeah, I want that vision to come out of our faith institutions, also rural and paternal organizations. And it’s, it’s just that our children need guidance, and help and support. You know, we’re raising $20,000, for pastors 50th, or 20th anniversary, with the children around the corner on that reading. In that school. The teachers need support. So, it’s, it’s widening the lens, so that we’re not looking myopically at just what’s right for us in our families. But really looking more broadly, at what’s needed for the community. That’s the history. That’s the culture. And I just want to say, this is not the rough side of the mountain.
Chanda Smith Baker 42:23
Before we go, I would love to share with the listeners, your leadership advice.
Susan Taylor 42:31
Something that I have never understood. And it’s why people in leadership with would mistreat, those who report into them, and whom they need in order to succeed. I need you to execute well, you know, I need you to be paid well, I need you to feel valued, so that this work can move forward. But ego gets in the way there. And people misuse power. I often say give yourself to yourself before you give yourself away. Because if you step into that space, feeling calm, and grateful to have the opportunity to really lead and have some kind of say so and power in people’s lives, that’s a heck of a responsibility. So, my leadership values really have to do with kindness, understanding, not always needing to be right, because I’m not, I’m never the smartest person in the room. When I’m hiring people. I want people smarter than me. You know, as I said, when I became the editor in chief of the magazine, I mean, I don’t have a journalism degree, I did go to college and graduate, but it wasn’t in journalism, it was in sociology. And here I am at the Natural Cares Mentoring movement with nonprofit experts on that team, who know, so I’m tuning my ears, to listen to what they have to say, so that we can really move this forward. This is it’s the big business of this nation. Damping poverty, elevating fragile lives out of poverty, so that we can what have peace in these borders, the disruptions, so many of them have to do with a lot of dishonesty and a lot of disruptions in boardrooms. I mean, that’s there’s a lot of violence going on right there. At the boardroom table, when I’m talking about the violence in our communities that has everybody concerned, we have to make sure that young people have the tools that they need. And we can’t be writing people off. We have to write them in. That’s what the national cares mentoring Movement is doing. We are writing our young people in and that’s my leadership sort of mandate. You know, that I want people who are passionate about this work, you don’t have to know everything and don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Because this is a learning institution and what we’re building, there’s no template for this. You know, there’s no template, I’m looking at what is needed. We can’t do everything our community needs, but our work is healing work. There’s a spiritual healing that is needed. And it’s epigenetic. It’s deep within us that trauma, and that’s the work of the National cares, mentoring movement. It’s healing, that trauma so that you and people and we all, you know, people across the race is going to link arms and names and move our children, all of our children and our nation forward.
Chanda Smith Baker 45:09
We have people that are listening that are listening from across the country. And if they were interested and getting more involved with the National cares, mentoring, where would they go?
Susan Taylor 45:21
I would say bravo first. Thank you. Just come to cares, mentoring that org cares mentoring.org We need you. Thank you.
Souphak Kienitz 45:37
If you enjoy this show and want to learn more about what we do here at the Minneapolis Foundation, please visit us online at Minneapolis. foundation.org. And of course, if you want to follow Chanda, or the Minneapolis Foundation on Twitter or Instagram, that’s Chanda s. Baker or MPLS Foundation. Thank you to Sarah Gillund, John Cuoco. And Darlynn, Benjamin, this is Souphak Kienitz from the Minneapolis Foundation. Thanks for listeningClose Transcript -
Susan L. Taylor, the best-selling author of four books and editor of eight others, is a fourth-generation entrepreneur who grew up in Harlem working in her father’s clothing store. At 24, she founded her own cosmetics company, which led to the beauty editor’s position at Essence, the publication she would go on to shape into a world-renown brand with more than 8 million readers. That enterprising spirit wedded to a deep love for her community led to the founding of the National CARES Mentoring Movement in 2006 as Essence CARES. With local affiliates in 58 cities, National CARES has recruited, trained, and deployed more than 160,000 mentors to schools and youth-support and mentoring organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, as well as to its own culturally rooted, academic- and social-transformational initiatives. A community-mobilization movement, National CARES is the only organization in the nation dedicated to providing mentoring, healing, and wellness services on a national scale to advance Black children living in poverty.
Susan is a recipient of more than a dozen honorary doctorates and hundreds of awards, including the Phoenix Award and the Henry Johnson Fisher Award, the highest honors given by the Congressional Black Caucus and the magazine-publishing industry, respectively. Susan is a lifelong activist who has worked to ensure people across the globe, from South Africa to those who struggled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She believes that securing our vulnerable children is her highest calling and the big business of our nation and Black America Today.