Essence Magazine’s Taylor Recruits Mentors in Memphis

By Bill Dries

The editor in chief emeritus of Essence magazine has been spending a lot of time in Memphis recently as part of her national call for more mentors.

And Susan L. Taylor is emphasizing that being a mentor isn’t the all-consuming task many people she encounters believe it will be.


“We’re only asking for an hour a week of people’s time. That’s it,” Taylor said last week just before speaking at the Memphis branch NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund Dinner. “We’re not asking anybody to be a parent – take a kid into your home. We’re not asking for any of that.”

Taylor was also in Memphis in January as part of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s state of the city address. And she has been working with the Memphis Cares mentoring program for months.

The effort here and nationally through the National CARES mentoring organization is what Taylor described as a way to “stem the violence and get young people who have lost their way on a path to valuing their lives, falling in love with learning and high achievement.”

The efforts are aimed at African-American children in communities ravaged by drugs, poverty, bad schools and what Taylor described as indifference.

“We haven’t invested in education. We’ve invested in a whole host of other things,” she said. “You have schools without books, without fields and without places for young people to play and the teams don’t have uniforms. That creates a kind of depression in young people. It says that the community doesn’t care about them.”

It is not a problem unique to urban areas or major American cities either, said Taylor, who has worked with mentoring groups in other cities.

“We can’t minimize the effect of young people having children before they themselves have developed,” Taylor said. “The community that would have supported young parents, teen parents, is frayed. It’s not there as it was 20, 30 years ago. A lot of that has to do with drugs coming in and people with resources who are able to move away, moving away leaving poor uneducated people on their own to fend for themselves.”

Beginning to breach the isolation doesn’t involve as much effort as some may think, said Taylor, who founded her own organization, “Essence Cares,” in 2006.

“What young people need is not something that is so very deep,” she said. “They need affirmation. They need inspiration. They need encouragement. They need caring adults in their lives who say you can do this and to help them understand how to do it.”

The goal, according to Taylor, is to use the mentoring to raise high school graduation rates, end violence in blighted communities and stop the “over-incarceration” of juveniles and young adults.

“There are people without expectations, who have no hope. … I’m simply saying that when people are depressed, when they don’t have the very basic things that we – most people who are reading this piece – take for granted, they self-medicate,” Taylor said of the role drug dealing and drug problems play. “What we do is we recruit mentors, connect with them and then deploy them to where they are needed.”