Essence, the preeminent magazine for African American women, has made a strong commitment to dealing with HIV/AIDS, a disease disproportionately affecting its very reader-base.
AIDS is the #1 killer of Black women in the United States, aged 24-45. Among females, 72% of all new HIV cases are Black women. In response to the pandemic, Essence has joined the struggle on many fronts, including partnering with the Black AIDS Institute to raise awareness and money through new subscriptions. The collaboration was another step by the Institute’s Black Media Task Force to develop and sustain a committed and comprehensive Black media response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As part of the effort, the American Urban Radio Networks produced, developed and distributed celebrity announcements to urban radio stations, encouraging listeners to purchase new subscriptions to the magazine. Participants in the campaign included Susan L. Taylor, editorial director of Essence, and comedienne Mo’Nique, who served as spokesperson for the campaign.
“This is a great example of two Black media giants working together on an issue that is bigger than us both,” says Jerry Lopes, president of the American Urban Radio Networks and one of the founding members of the Black AIDS Institute’s Media Task Force. “HIV/AIDS is destroying our community and we must get informed, get treated, get tested and get involved.”
“Essence always seeks to educate our readers about HIV/AIDS, and we are proud to partner with BAI in this critical effort,” said Diane Weathers, a former editor-in-chief. “Mo’Nique’s connection to the African American community and her passion to increase the consciousness make her the perfect spokesperson for this important cause.”
Over the years, the magazine has also highlighted everyday heroes between its pages. A 1997 cover featured a young woman with AIDS studying for her masters degree. In a 2003 story on 50 African American women who have “got the power” and are “shaping the world,” Essence featured Pernessa Seele, founder of The Balm in Gilead, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization with an international mission to address health disparities, specifically HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer, as experienced by people of the African Diaspora. The magazine noted Seele’s exemplary work with Christian and Muslim leaders in Africa “to help end the devastation” of the HIV pandemic.
“Essence is the premiere magazine for African American women,” said Seele. “HIV/AIDS is destroying the fabric of African people, particularly women, throughout the Black community. Their acknowledgement of my work in this field is an honor.”
The magazine has also participated in the Institute’s Project Drumbeat, a public-awareness campaign meant to help slow the spread of HIV and AIDS among African Americans through testing and prevention, and the Black Media Roundtable on HIV/AIDS. The Roundtable features Black journalists, media executives and publishers who convene to discuss ways to educate, inform, and encourage aggressive and thorough coverage of HIV/AIDS issues in the Black community.
“The Black media holds the key to educating our community around HIV/AIDS,” says Institute Executive Director Phill Wilson. “It’s important that Black media professionals are armed with the most accurate and up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS so that we can strategically and creatively come up with ideas to educate and inform our community.”
Essence Communications Inc. was founded in 1968. The first issue of the magazine hit the newsstands two years later with a circulation of 50,000. Essence now has a monthly circulation of 1,063,000 and a readership of more than seven million. In 2003, it ranked seventh on Advertising Age’s “A-List,” which recognizes magazine excellence. This is the first time that an African American-targeted publication received this honor.
In 1995, ECI produced the first annual Essence Music Festival. The Essence Music Festival is an unprecedented three days of cultural celebrations and Essence Empowerment Seminars mixed with and three nights of performances by some of the greatest African American artists. In 1998, the Coca-Cola Company presented this popular event for the first time as a title sponsor, renaming the event Coca-Cola Presents The Essence Music Festival.
The Women Who Are Shaping the World Leadership Summit was created by the editors of Essence. The Leadership Summit is a day of enrichment designed to help Black women working across the career spectrum and as entrepreneurs explore topics, issues and concerns that most profoundly affect them in the workplace and in building their businesses. It offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to interact with leaders who understand the challenges that African American women face in an ever-changing work environment.
During the past 35 years, the company has grown into a vital business of diverse media properties and communications systems. Its success is linked to its unique relationship with the readers of Essence magazine and the strong alliances it has forged with America’s leading corporations and financial institutions.
In October 2000, ECI signed an agreement with Time Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., to form a joint venture known as Essence Communications Partners. Essence was the majority owner of the venture. In March 2005, Time Inc. acquired the portion it did not already own. The company’s name changed back to Essence Communications Inc. The ECI corporate headquarters are in New York City, with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Detroit.
Essence has celebrated personal achievement, chronicled social movement, documented struggles, showcased beauty, defined and set trends and illustrated the incredible journey of a resilient and splendid race. Past, present and future, the magazine remains committed to serving as a beacon of light in the struggle.