‘Tis the season for self-care, according to Essence magazine—and it’s safe to say Christmas came early for fans of the legacy outlet, because it blessed us with not one but three gorgeous covers for its November/December holiday issue, themed “The Year of Radical Self-Care.”
Grammy award-winner Lizzo, 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones and Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles each stun on the split-cover issue, photographed by Ramona Rosales, Itaysha Jordan and Chrisean Rose, respectively.
“Y’all. This was a dream I didn’t even have the audacity to dream,” Hannah-Jones captioned a post of her first fashion cover on Instagram. “No magazine has meant more to me than Essence. As a Black girl from a working-class family in a working-class town, Essence exposed me to the beautiful spectrum and possibilities of Black womanhood. I am pinching myself. Thank you, Essence, for seeing me and seeing all of us, and for making me feel like an absolute 👑.”
The trio of trailblazers form a beautiful spectrum, indeed. While Lizzo and Biles may be well-seasoned cover stars, as rave reviews online can attest, each woman looks especially radiant in her cover story, each of which explores a different aspect of self-care.
For Lizzo, it’s reckoning with the constant criticism that her bold, body-loving image and pop-friendly sound seems to inspire. “No one’s ever right about me,” she tells the magazine, specifically referencing the frequent backlash to her body when she admits “It’s exhausting...I don’t want to talk about this anymore. We should be neutral about bodies.”
Biles’ body has brought her Olympic gold and countless other accolades, making her the most decorated gymnast of all time. But it was her self-protective stand for her own mental health that proved a watershed moment at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, as Biles withdrew after experiencing the dangerous phenomenon known as the “twisties.”
“At the end of the day, we’re humans. We’re not just athletes. We’re not just here for entertainment,” she tells Essence, adding: “I feel content with what I did and how I made the decision.”
For Pulitzer Prize–winner Hannah-Jones, it was her headline-making decision to decline tenure at her alma mater, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill after its board of trustees rescinded their initial offer and haggled for several weeks. As she told Essence, her self-advocacy was ultimately about more than herself.
“It was important for me to say no to UNC, for my dignity, my self-respect,” she told the magazine. “And then, outside of me, I needed to do it for Black people and marginalized people, for their dignity and respect, too.
“A lot of people were watching, people who you wouldn’t think would have any investment at all in whether some New York Times reporter gets tenure at a university,” she added—and as fate would have it, Hannah-Jones found the tenure she deserved at Howard University, where her investment in Black and marginalized people and a true telling of American history continues. In fact, on Friday she partnered with independent, nonprofit newsroom The 19th to announce the Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Fellowship Program “to further equity in the field of journalism, create opportunities for women of color and LGBTQ+ people and to help ensure a robust and diverse pipeline of next-generation journalists for the nation’s newsrooms,” according to a press release sent to The Root.
Named after poet, writer, educator and activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, often referred to as the “mother of African American journalism,” the $3.8 million inaugural program funded by Michelle Mercer and Bruce Golden will provide recent graduates and mid-career alums of Historically Black Colleges and Universities with full-year, salaried and benefit-laden fellowships in the areas of reporting, editing, audience engagement or newsroom technology.
The program, which will serve five fellows annually, will feature on-the-job training, mentorship and development opportunities to help fellows navigate job placement post-fellowship. Fellows will also receive advisory support from Nikole Hannah-Jones, Howard University’s Knight Chair in Race and Journalism, and Howard University’s Center for Journalism and Democracy.
“This fellowship is unlike any I have seen in the industry,” said Hannah-Jones in a statement. “That is why I am so excited to support this work, which aligns with the goals of the Center for Journalism and Democracy that I am building at Howard University. The fellowship program The 19th is creating should be the gold standard for how newsroom fellowships should work, as it will provide the type of opportunity that our aspiring journalists of color deserve.”
Applications for the full-year journalism fellowship are slated to open in mid-2022, with the first class of fellows expected to come aboard in September 2022. The class of five will include three reporting or editing fellows, one audience engagement fellow and one technology or product fellow, each of whom will be compensated with a minimum salary of $70,000 and all other benefits of full-time employees, including health insurance, paid time off and a 401(K) plan.
In addition to paying it forward, the Hannah-Jones-created anthology The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, was already a bestseller when it was published earlier this week. You can read more on radical self-care from her, Lizzo, and Simone Biles at Essence.com—or pick up the November/December issue on newsstands this holiday season.