Home News Local news Admirers Flock to Hear Essence Columnist Susan Taylor

Admirers Flock to Hear Essence Columnist Susan Taylor


Essence columnist Susan TaylorThrongs of St. Croix admirers came to hear Essence Magazine legend Susan Taylor speak Thursday at UVI, many with their own stories of how Taylor’s columns and books helped them through dark times and impacted their lives for the better.

For 27 years, Taylor authored "In the Spirit," one of Essence magazine’s most popular columns, offering up thoughts and advice on life, love, ethics, relationships, spirituality and what it means to be a black woman in today’s society. Over the years, innumerable young black women — and men –have taken hope and inspiration from her words.

Sitting in the audience waiting for Taylor to speak, St. Croix resident Victoria Samayoa said Taylor’s first book: "In the Spirit: The Inspirational Writings of Susan L. Taylor" got her through her freshman year in college. Away from home, she was lonely and did not know what she wanted to do in life. She nearly quit school. But Taylor’s book gave her the comfort and advice she was missing, she said.

"It was like having an older sister or aunt with me, giving me tidbits of wisdom in the middle of the night when I was anxious and wanted to run screaming into the street," said Samayoa.

Others too said Taylor’s writings had a huge positive impact on their lives, when Taylor took questions after her talk. Two even said her writings helped them get by while incarcerated and helped them get on the right path when they got out. St. Croix resident Henry Milligan said he was incarcerated on drug charges at the age of 19 and was recently released after serving 20 years.

"When I was on the inside, I had days I would think ‘I’m going to do something to somebody,’" Milligan said. But he would read her column, and the spiritual messages helped him to develop a better perspective and challenge his frustration in positive directions, he said.

Taylor gave Milligan a hug and spoke a bit about how for-profit prisons create a financial incentive to incarcerate more people for longer periods, and how people with felony convictions often cannot get hired.

Some asked Taylor for advice. Sana Joseph-Smith, owner of St. Croix’s IHOP, asked Taylor for advice on how to manage her employees without getting overwhelmed by the stress and chaos of their different, complicated personal situations.

Taylor suggested Joseph-Smith give employees more support overall, and at the same time, take time to take care of herself.

"These are women who are struggling. They need guidance," Taylor said. She suggested giving employees subscriptions to the uplifting Christian magazine The Daily Word, giving them time off, and holding some retreats, like corporations to, to help build team spirit and a sense of belonging.

Taylor spoke of her personal journey, from a middle-class married woman to a broke divorced single mother when she started working with Essence as a freelance fashion and beauty editor in 1970, the year it began printing. A decade later, she was managing editor, editorial director and author of one of the most popular columns in a magazine with over a million subscribers and several times that number of regular readers.

She peppered her talk with homespun advice.

  • On love: “You are your oldest and closest friend. When you love yourself it is a magnet," she said.
  • On relationships: "My advice to women; do not sleep where you are not adored. … I’m not saying no sex before marriage and I’m not going to try to dissuade you if you are already on that path," she said.
  • On diet: "Sugar is a killer, it really is," she said. "We were enslaved to produce sugar and it’s addictive. It was called the cocaine of the 19th century and Europeans were addicted." Consuming less sugar, bread and rice and more fresh fruits and vegetables are key to averting the obesity, diabetes and kidney disease so prevalent in the U.S. in general and black communities in particular, she said.
  • On learning about the past: "You have to know your history," she said. You have the three famous queens in the Virgin Islands: Queen Breffu on St. John in the slave revolt of 1733; Queen Mary on St. Croix in the 1878 Fireburn and Queen Coziah who led the St. Thomas coal carrier’s strike in 1892. "How could a woman in the late 1800s head up a protest of coal miners as she did? I want to know her story," Taylor said.
  • On God and church: “this is how much God loves us and how efficiently he takes care of us: With three deep breaths we can restore peace. Deep breathing restores peace. You can’t rush while breathing deeply."

Everyone has a duty to help those who need it, she said, urging listeners to become mentors. One way to do that is through the National CARES Mentoring Movement, an umbrella organization matching mentors with young people which Taylor founded in 2008.

Taylor urged UVI students and others to get involved with two new UVI groups whose members work with young men and women in the community: Brothers with a Cause, initiated earlier this year by UVI President David Hall, and Sisters with a Purpose, a parallel organization unveiled Thursday by UVI Professor Nancy Morgan, aimed at providing young women practical help on everything from resume writing to etiquette.

Taylor finished after nearly an hour of speaking and another hour of taking questions and began signing copies of her latest book: "All About Love: Favorite Selections from In the Spirit on Living Fearlessly" as a long line of admirers queued up, books in hand.

Taylor has close friends who live in the territory and has visited before. She was here this week as the featured speaker at UVI’s Alfred O. Heath Distinguished Lecture Series and spoke Wednesday on St. Thomas. Dr. Heath was in the audience. A St. Thomas native, Heath was one of the first cardiovascular surgeons to perform heart surgery in the territory.


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