Inside Essence: “Zuri Adele Is Teaching, Learning, And Storytelling Through Her Role On ‘Good Trouble'”

13 Apr

Growing up in a household with a newspaperman, our coffee table displayed the full range of publications: Of course, there was the Pittsburgh Courier, where my father spent the last years of his career. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette landed on our front porch every morning, and the Pittsburgh Press arrived in the afternoon. My parents were subscribers to Life and Look magazines and to Ebony.

I was a freshman in high school when Essence published its first issue. in May 1970. A magazine devoted solely to the concerns of Black women? That was major.

These days, seeing Black women on the covers of so-called “mainstream” publications is not such a big deal. The May 2022 issue of Vogue features a resplendent and pregnant Rihanna. But she’s been on the cover of Vogue alone more than a few dozen times. We’ve become accustomed to all kinds of magazines featuring the full range of Black women from Beyoncé to Michelle Obama.

Even back in the day, there were rare sightings of Black beauties on mainstream covers. I still have a copy of Life published Nov. 1, 1954, the week I was born. It features Dorothy Dandridge on the cover. Black model, Donyale Luna, appeared on the cover of Vogue UK in 1966. But it was not until 1974 that Beverly Johnson became the first Black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue.

Still, beginning in May 1970, Essence was the one publication I could count on to embrace every aspect of our unique experience as a Black women — as political activists, as artists, as romantic parters, as parents, as professionals. Essence celebrated and examined our beautiful and unique bodies, our hair, our skin and our style.

When I was an undergraduate at Chatham College, Marcia Ann Gillespie, then the magazine’s editor-in-chief, gave a keynote, and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. I would not have imagined that in less than 10 years, I’d be working on the editorial staff of Essence myself.

And now, 35 years after I moved on from the magazine, Zuri Adele is featured in its pages in an article titled “Zuri Adele Is Teaching, Learning, And Storytelling Through Her Role On ‘Good Trouble.'”

Essence‘s impact has always been personal, and that legacy continues.

Zuri Adele (Photo Credit: Jennifer Johnson Photography @JenJphoto)

What happens to rage repressed?

6 Apr

I was on a Civil Rights tour and wrote this essay. My trip coincided with President Joseph Biden’s signing the Antilynching Act into law and came on the heels of the Will Smith Oscar slap. The Boston Globe published it on April 1.

Living History

5 Apr

In the months leading up to a tour titled “On the Road to Freedom: Understanding the Civil Rights Movement,” I was on the fence. Despite the waning Covid infection numbers, the easing of mask mandates and the fact that my fellow travelers would all be fully vaccinated and boostered, I wasn’t sure. After all, we were traveling by bus through Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, states with lower vaccination rates than California. I’d managed to dodge the Covid bullet for two years. Was I ready to let my guard down?

I like to think of myself as an intrepid traveler, but the thought of navigating airports and ground transportation, all in an N 95 mask, gave me pause. Still, I was intrigued by the idea of a trip to U.S. historical sites I’d only read about.

In the end, I decided to go for it. After all, I told myself, you’re not getting any younger.

What occurred to me once the trip began, was that the people we would meet, foot soldiers who had been on the front lines of the movement, weren’t getting any younger either. As I note in my op-ed, “What Happens to Rage Repressed?” published in The Boston Globe on April 1, I got to meet Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine. But she was just one of the treasures who shared their time and wisdom with us.

Elizabeth Eckford

There was Hezekiah Watkins, who describes himself as Mississippi’s youngest Freedom Rider. His first arrest and incarceration at 13 years old is a harrowing tale.

Hezekiah Watkins

We spent several hours with Rev. Carolyn McKinstry as she recounted how at 15 years old she was handling Sunday School paperwork at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, when the Ku Klux Klan set off the blast that killed four of her friends, injured others and terrorized the Black community.

Rev. Carolyn McKinstry

We visited the Montgomery, Alabama, home of Dr. Valda Harris Montgomery, which was down the block from the parsonage of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor from 1954 to 1960. Dr. Harris told heartwarming stories of the two families socializing in each other’s homes and how her own home was a sanctuary and a strategizing space for civil rights activists.

Dr. Valda Harris Montgomery

The tour, sponsored by the Commonwealth Club of California, included time to take in good music and enjoy delicious food. The state-of-the-art interactive museums that document the history of the African diaspora alone were worth the trip. Still, it was the living monuments to this history that I will remember the most.

‘The Donna Collection’

25 Nov

My short story, “The Donna Collection” is included in the new anthology 166 Palms 2020. Buy the anthology on Amazon.

Happy Hundredth Birthday, Mary Ray

28 Dec

Today would have been Mary Ray’s 100th birthday. Wish she could be here to celebrate with us and to see all the thriving going on among her children, grandchildren and great grands.

ellen_mom_elaine

Ellen-Marie, Mom and me

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