As a journalist, it has always been my dream to write for Essence Magazine.
Growing up, they represented #BlackExcellence and in some ways, they still do. The platform they provided for Black entertainers was like none other. When magazines like Vogue and Cosmpolitan refused to feature black celebrities, Essence filled that void. They’ve upheld Black women and Black culture in a way that is needed in our society.
Unfortunately we never really know what goes on behind closed doors. A few days ago, a group of anonymous women wrote a lengthy post on the Medium platform, calling for the resignation of Essence Ventures owner and Chief Executive Officer Richelieu Dennis, Essence Ventures board member and former Essence Communications CEO Michelle Ebanks, Chief Operating Officer Joy Collins Profet, and Chief Content Officer Moana Luu. They also demanded AT&T, Coca Cola, Chase Bank, Ford, McDonalds, Procter & Gamble, Walmart and Warner Media to immediately eliminate all active or future sponsorships and media buys at Essence Ventures until the company is under new leadership.
One reader commented, “Proud of y’all. I would be happy to talk to any of you about the Afropunk layoffs Essence Ventures owner and Chief Executive Officer Richelieu Dennis spearheaded (and kept quiet) this past March 31. Likewise, that brand promise is even more fraudulent than ever.”
Another said, “Your bravery and courage is admirable. So many Black womxn have suffered at the hands and direction of complicit, violent Black leadership at many companies and organizations. Your voices will not go unheard. Happy to support!🙏🏼”
Essence caught wind of the post and sent out a press release refuting all claims.
This comes at a time where unity among Black people is necessary in order for us to begin the healing process in the world. Over the last few years, and more recently the last few months, the chants of Black Lives Matter have become louder and clearer. Our community is recognizing the powerful impact of the Black dollar and pouring back into our businesses. Black women have taken the lead on advocating for both Black men and children while continuously receiving the shorter end of the stick. Publications like HelloBeautiful, MadameNoire, and Essence, make it their everyday duty to make sure Black women are seen and heard despite how we feel we are treated in the world.
It is disheartening to read about the experiences of other Black journalists and employees at a media heavy-hitter like Essence. I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment in their response to the Medium post. An article that assassinates the character of the entire C-suite is hurtful and has the potential to ruin your brand, but there has to be some kind of accountability taken. Part of uplifting and empowering Black women is believing Black women. The C-suite’s perception of what happens within their offices is different from the reality of their employees. That must be acknowledged before refuting the claims and experiences of others. Refinery29 writers called out their upper management on the treatment of Black and Brown employees and they were met with acknowledgment of their staff’s feelings and a plan of action on how they will work harder to change the workplace culture.
It is important to hold brands and businesses accountable, no matter what the climate of the world is. We cannot advocate for other brands and businesses to keep their yards clean, and forgo maintaining our own. We cannot empower Black women with articles and functions, and not acknowledge their pain. The Essence Magazine C-suite may not resign from their positions, but they can shift the work culture so their employees feel empowered instead of drained. Are we going to cancel Essence? Likely not. We need publications like this to keep the culture going. We also need them to uplift their employees the way they uplift celebrities. Let’s clean up our yard so that posts like this don’t go up.