Thursday, November 6, 2008
I was a bit awe-struck Thursday.
That’s because I was sitting at the table with a couple of celebrities – Susan L. Taylor and Samir Husni.
Taylor was the honoree of the luncheon reception celebrating Mass Communications Week at Rust College. She is executive editor emerita of Essence magazine, having recently left the magazine after almost 30 years, and founder and chief executive officer of National Cares Mentoring Movement. Husni, a good friend for many years, chairs the journalism department at Ole Miss and is perhaps best known as “Mr. Magazine.” He’s recognized as the country’s leading magazine expert.
Debayo Moyo, chair of the Department of Mass Communications at Rust, is kind enough to invite me every year, and it’s an event I always look forward to.
Taylor’s words to Rust students and others in attendance at the luncheon were truly inspirational.
“Aim high,” she said. “Challenge yourself. Competition is stiff; you have to be excellent.”
She told the students there is no place for poor writing skills. She said if she gets a resume or sample writings with a comma out of place, a misspelled word or incorrect noun-verb agreement, she tosses them.
“I’m stunned at the poor skills I see,” she said. “You have to master The King’s English and know how to write it well.”
Taylor urged the students to intern somewhere – without pay if needed.
“Offer yourself up,” she said. “You must have the experience.”
Taylor said she first wanted to be an actor but she stepped out of that arena.
“You have to be phenomenal,” she said. “You don’t get to the top without sacrificing something. Look at Oprah Winfrey; she’s the hardest-working person in the world. Be there first and leave last.”
However, she said sometimes she believes she gave too much to Essence magazine because she should have spent more time with her daughter.
“Follow your passion and do the work,” said Taylor, who followed her heart and once started a cosmetology company, too.
“I edited Essence seven days a week and loved every minute of it.
“Be you. Bring the best of who you are to what you are doing.”
Her inspirational column was entitled “In the Spirit.”
“It astounds me – the response over the years,” Taylor said. “I wrote about God. I wrote about what I cared about. Never once did a reader call and say – why are you mentioning God in your column?”
She called Husni to the podium next, after reaping praises galore on “Mr. Magazine.”
“I’m speechless,” Husni said.
He said if a magazine is successful, a human being comes out of it. Essence is the nation’s largest magazine for black women, with a circulation of over one million.
“This (looking at Taylor) is Essence magazine – alive and in person,” Husni said. “You feel the passion in her, for Essence and her writings. She is indeed the ‘first lady’ of black magazines.
“I can’t believe I’m standing next to Susan Taylor.”
He also had words of wisdom for the Rust College communications students.
“To be a good writer, you have to be a good reader,” Husni said. “If you don’t read, you will never be a good writer.”
Both talked about the ongoing challenges in the magazine industry. Most are experiencing lost circulation.
“Our industry is undergoing a major transformation, but guess what, we’re still in the business of selling content,” Husni said.
Taylor said, “You have to be creative; think outside the box. And you have to have courage.”
Her National Cares Mentoring Movement seeks to help at-risk children, increase the graduation rates among African American students and end the violence in black communities.
“It’s my deepest passion,” Taylor said.
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