The leading voice in America’s leading publication for black women is making way for new leadership. On Monday, Essence Communications made the unexpected announcement that as of March 31 its CEO, Michelle Ebanks, will be stepping down from the role she’s held since 2018, prior to which she had been in leadership roles within the company since 2001. Ebanks was instrumental in Time Inc.’s acquisition of the legacy masthead in 2005 and again in 2018 when Sundial Brands founder Richelieu Dennis restored Essence to a black-owned entity through his own acquisition of the now-50-year-old magazine.
“When I joined Essence, I could not have imagined this extraordinary journey and how it would transform me as a person and as a leader,” said Ebanks in a statement issued to Business Wire. “I will always be grateful for the opportunity, but most importantly for the impact that Essence continues to have on tens of millions of Black women globally. Since I began, my priority has been to position Essence for its next phase, and we’ve done that. The brand has been reestablished as 100% Black-owned and is well-positioned for continued success through what is a remarkable time of transformation and reinvention.”
Ebanks also oversaw the annual Essence Festival, a nearly 26-year-old juggernaut that has proven both a boon for New Orleans’ economy and a pilgrimage for black women. Speaking with The Glow Up during the festival’s 25th anniversary year, Ebanks spoke on the legacy of the festival and its ongoing impact.
“What we observe is a community of women who are joyful and optimistic and who attend the Essence Festival to, as [founding editor-in-chief] Susan L. Taylor once said so eloquently…‘see each other and be with each other,’” said Ebanks. “Today, the Essence woman is a leader, achiever, and influencer; both politically and economically. She is driving the growth trends in business ownership and social activism and finds time to celebrate her beauty and embrace her culture. At the Essence Festival, we speak to her many passions…engaging her mind and her spirit.”
While Ebanks will no longer be at the helm of Essence Communications, she will not be far from the brand. In addition to assisting with the search and transition of her replacement, Business Wire reports she will be joining the board of parent company Essence Ventures, where she “will advise on strategic partnerships and new growth opportunities, including the development of a diversity and inclusion capability that supports the advancement of people of color in the workplace.” As Essence Communications seeks its new CEO, Essence Ventures founder & chairman Dennis will oversee the continued evolution of the company.
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“There aren’t enough words to express the gratitude, recognition and admiration that we have for everything Michelle has brought to ESSENCE over nearly 20 years—her vision, her leadership, her advocacy, and her determination,” said Dennis in a statement. “We value her commitment to uplifting and empowering our community, as well as to building a successful business with an unmatched team of women executives who are leading the way. We are excited to continue to work alongside her on the board of Essence Ventures as we open new opportunities, access, expertise and possibilities for Black women and people of color in the most engaging, authentic and innovative ways possible. This is only the beginning.”