SEEN UP NORTH – The essence of Taylor
“Let’s roll up our sleeves, with an agenda and do the work.”
The work Susan Taylor, the granddaughter of Barbadians, has in mind is extending a helping hand to the youth, especially young women and men of African ancestry.
At 65 years old, a time when most people are thinking about how to spend their days relaxing in retirement after decades of hard work at the office, in the manufacturing or assembly plant, behind the steering wheel of a bus or truck, oiling the machinery of government, managing a state enterprise or directing the fortunes of a private sector firm while raising a family, Taylor is on a national and international mission.
Her goal: effecting change in society, with a special focus on black people wherever they live, work or study across America, in Barbados, Jamaica, England, St Kitts-Nevis, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, Africa, you name the place.
And the former editor-in-chief of Essence, the highly successful national women’s magazine, is channeling much of her enormous talent, credibility and energy into the National Cares Mentoring Movement which is working to help put young people on a path to success through education, positive experiences, guidance, career development and other bright aspects of life.
“It is a call to action to us to get involved in mentoring relationships with our young, our young who have lost their way; our young who are in schools without textbooks; our young who are hungry in the wealthiest country in the world. It reads like pure fiction that we (in the United States) could possibly have almost 40 million who are living in poverty and almost four million people who are homeless in the wealthiest country in the world; and one in six Americans is living in poverty,” was the way she explained it in Jamaica last weekend to a largely American audience of executives, elected representatives in New York, writers and others from Michigan, Colorado, Missouri, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida and elsewhere who attended the 16th annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference in Ocho Rios.
Taylor was born in New York City to a Trinidadian mother, Violet, and a Kittitian father, Lawrence Taylor, and grew up in East Harlem where her parents owned and managed a clothing store for 30 years.
The actress, licensed cosmetologist, writer, editor, television host and executive producer, Fordham University graduate and author spent almost 40 years at Essence, rising from freelance fashion and beauty editor in the 1970s to editor-in-chief, creating and fashioning along the way the “Essence brand”.
For instance, she served as executive producer and host of Essence, The Television Programme that was broadcast across America and in 60 nations in the 1980s; launched Essence Books, and wrote a monthly inspirational column In The Spirit, a widely read feature of the magazine that was later turned into a book. She left the magazine in 2008.
Today, the enormously popular woman travels the country and around the world exhorting individuals, organizations and firms to mentor young people. She lists several factors that should spur adults in the United States into action. For example, 58 per cent of all black fourth graders, nine-year-olds, are “functionally illiterate”; 80 per cent of “our boys” in some American cities don’t finish high school; an estimated 1 000 black children are arrested daily; one in every eight African American males between the ages of 25 and 29 is in prison; and “the No. 1 cause of death for our boys” is homicide.
She said “we don’t have to do what our ancestors” endured in order for “us” to enjoy freedom and a decent life in the 21st century.
“My family is from the Caribbean. My mother is from Trinidad, my father is from St Kitts and my grandparents from Barbados,” she said.
“Every time I come to this part of the world [Caribbean] and I think what we have experienced over the seas and the centuries, it humbles me and I want to get on my knees and just say ‘thank you’.
“I will take this part of the journey because we don’t know what it means to be on a plantation or in the hold of a ship [during slavery] or to be marched in chains from the hinterland, and then kept in a dungeon [in Africa] for months waiting for ships to ferry to Brazil all the way to Massachusetts. Where we landed was random.
“What we have to do, it pales. It cannot even compare to those who opened the way for us, sacrificed,” Taylor, the mother of a daughter, added.
What then should people be doing, including those in the Caribbean?
For one thing, she said on the National Cares Mentoring Movement’s website, was mentoring “[It] is about caring. It’s caring enough to commit just one hour a week to advise and help guide a vulnerable young person.” Secondly, they should see themselves as the solution to the problems of the youth.
Taylor has visited Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St Kitts-Nevis and a host of other Caribbean countries, trying to get her message out to adults.