IN RESPONSE TO: http://blackstreetonline.com/2012/03/06/100blackmenofli/
SITTING DOWN WITH SUSAN L. TAYLOR
Growing up in South Carolina as one of few Black girls in my neighborhood and at my school, I took great pride in seeing Black women in media who were setting a positive image for young women like me. They gave me someone to look up to and big dreams to aspire toward. Susan L. Taylor was—and still is—one of those women. In high school and college, I often wore braids, so I would beam when I opened a new issue of Essence magazine each month to read Taylor’s eloquent “In the Spirit” column and see her smiling with such a regal quality about her, and always wearing her signature cornrows.
That same regal, yet humble, spirit is exactly what I encountered when I sat down with Taylor recently. I interviewed her at the Crest Hollow Country Club of Woodberry, New York, where the 100 Black Men of Long Island were hosting their 38th Annual Scholarship Benefit Gala. The event honored community members who are committed to mentorship, education and leadership. Taylor was the keynote speaker, and political commentator and author Dominic Carter was the gala’s host. After spending three decades at Essence, with most of those years serving as Editor-in-Chief, Taylor moved to found the National CARES Mentoring Movement. Staggering statistics about the high percentage of Black students who are functionally illiterate were among several sparks that ignited her to begin the CARES movement six years ago, which is in more than 60 cities and connects and recruits mentors with local youth organizations. In fact, the 100 Black Men of Long Island are now working with the CARES Movement to establish a mentoring program in their community. Each one, reach one. That was the underlying theme during the night of the gala.
Throughout our conversation, I could tell that Ms. Taylor truly believes in the power of mentoring and education. And her genuine approach to tackling these critical issues is benefitting young people across the country who are being positively impacted by mentors. While sitting with Taylor, I also got to share with her my memories of seeing her beautiful photo in Essence each month and expressing that she had such a stately way of carrying herself. She in turn complimented my braided hairstyle, professionalism and energetic demeanor. That moment meant so much to me – a talkative girl with braids from South Carolina who became a writer, reporter, and host in part due to the influence of women like Ms. Taylor. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of a true renaissance woman who continues to selflessly give of her time and talent to make this world a better place, and to be an example for other young people –just like me—to realize they too can achieve their dreams.
Written by: Ashlei N. Stevens
Ashlei N. Stevens is the host of DPVN Entertainment on www.dpvn.net, a bi- weekly arts and entertainment show. She is also the co-host of Time Warner Cable’s Born to Shine. An education advocate, Ashlei is former education policy advisor to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and now serves as a tutor and mentor, and works for the United Negro College Fund. For more information, visit www.ashlei.net.