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Legendary Black publications Ebony and Essence are facing arduous times as troubling allegations of financial and internal leadership abuses hover as they celebrate milestone years.
Ebony, in its 75th year, recently forced out CEO Willard Jackson after the board of directors became concerned about some of his financial transactions and has since launched an independent investigation.
“The board of directors individually and collectively understands the legacy and value of Ebony to Black communities globally,” , newly elected board chairman, said in response to the ouster of Jackson.
“Founder John H. Johnson conducted himself and Ebony business with a level of class, integrity and honor that has come to define Black professionalism in America,” Walthour said. “While the board expects that Ebony will always need to adapt its business model to stay relevant, it must never compromise the core values of Mr. Johnson.”
In recent years, Ebony has endured some blows to its credibility. In 2018, the magazine came under fire after dozens of writers took to social media claiming they had not been paid for their work, which led to the viral #EbonyOwes campaign and a lawsuit against the company.
Ebony settled the suit with dozens of freelancers for nearly $80,000 for unpaid work stretching back more than two years, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Ebony was sold by Johnson Publishing to the CVG Group in 2016, which former CEO Jackson is a partner — soon after the transition, claims of disarray at the storied publication began to surface.
Walthour, chairman of Ebony’s board and co-founder of Blueprint Capital Advisors, a Black-owned asset manager says he’s looking forward to pushing the brand in a new direction.
That new guidance includes “assessing all structural, managerial, and financial facets of the organization with an eye toward amplifying the current calls for economic and racial justice and equality.”
Walthour also said the board is prioritizing the payment of delinquent compensation to Ebony employees and they expect to make an announcement soon regarding the matter.
“As we approach Ebony’s 75th anniversary, now more than any other time since the civil rights movement, Black people need a medium to express ‘their’ voice and record this historical moment,” he said. “We are committed to the preservation of this valuable asset to the Black community and being a part of the next 75 years.”
Trouble at Essence?
Essence, in its 50th year, has named a new interim CEO after an anonymous essay titled “The Truth About Essence” published on Medium.com with allegations of a toxic workplace.
Penned by a group of women under the name #BlackFemaleAnonymous, the scathing essay calls out several executives including former CEO Richelieu Dennis and calls for corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Chase Bank, Walmart and more to part ways with the Black women-centered publication if said abuses aren’t rectified.
“The Essence brand promise is fraudulent,” they wrote. “The once exalted media brand dedicated to Black women has been hijacked by cultural and corporate greed and an unhinged abuse of power.”
They also say Black women, who make up over 80 percent of the company’s workforce are systematically suppressed by pay inequity, sexual harassment, corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism and classism.
The essay goes further, saying Dennis, his wife and head of Human Resources Martha Dennis, former CEO Michelle Ebanks and executives Joy Collins Profet and Moana Luu “collaboratively immortalize an extremely unhealthy work culture” and individually detailing the alleged offenses.
After the essay was published, Essence responded on its website, saying the accusations are false and “unfounded attempts to discredit our brand and assassinate personal character.”
They added they willfully deny the allegations, but days later the company announced a new interim CEO Carolina Wanga to replace Richelieu Dennis, who owns the magazine and Sundial Brands.
Other executives named in the essay have also been relieved of their duties, according to an Instagram post by Black Female Anonymous calling their efforts a success.
“Together with your support, we raised our voices for a better Essence…we never wanted Essence to fold, we wanted Essence to soar,” they wrote. “Our work is not done. We’re maintaining Black Female Anonymous as a platform for Black women to safely expose workplace inequity, mistreatment and abuses at all companies — whether they be Black-owned or white-owned.”