Susan L. Taylor’s face and name are synonymous with Essence magazine. She joined it’s editorial staff as the beauty editor the year the magazine launched in 1970 and spent the next 37 years serving as editor-in-chief, publications director, and finally, editorial director, the position she held when she left the publication in January 2008.
But her departure in no way signaled the end of her work. Taylor had realized her passion for youth mentoring a few years prior to leaving Essence and founded Essence CARES in 2006. Essence CARES grew steadily into the National CARES Mentoring Movement and Taylor now runs it full time.
What prompted you to found the National CARES Mentoring Movement?
After Katrina, I just said that Essence couldn’t go back into New Orleans with the Essence Music Festival and conduct business as we had before. We really needed to focus on the children who had been displaced and were living in FEMA trailers. I just said we’ve got to get our community engaged in the recovery and forward movement of under-resourced children.
It was that burning desire to give an assignment to the tens of thousands of people who were coming to the Essence Music Festival so we wouldn’t just come and have a party. That’s when I launched Essence CARES. Even though I wasn’t editor-in-chief of [Essence] anymore, I still had Women Who Were Shaping the World, The Essence Music Festival, writing my editorial every month, and I just said, ‘You know what? You have more than enough. You owe the rest of your time and energy and life to your community.’ So I’m a bridge. I’m a bridge between the White House Justice Department, the powers that be, and our voices–to speak up for the children because no one else is listening. God has given me the grace of access because I don’t really need anything for myself right now.
Tell me about the annual leadership conference and mentoring summit coming up in October?
We have 56 [recruitment] circles around the country, and about 100 leaders came the first year. Then 200 came last year. And it’s a training so we bring them all together and we talk about how you talk to the media, why we’re doing this work. It’s motivating, it’s teaching them how to run their organizations, how to do 501c3s, how to incorporate and how you partner with the organization that you’re feeding mentors to. Because we’re not a mentoring program, we recruit mentors. Why? Because when the call goes out for mentors, the first respondents are white women and then white men and then black men. Black women are last.
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