Essence Makes Official Statement On Criticism From ‘Black Female Anonymous’

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Written by Ann Brown
Essence
Essence makes an official statement on severe criticism from an article by “Black Female Anonymous” that claims sexual harassment and a toxic workplace at the trailblazing publication. Richelieu Dennis arrives at the 11th Annual Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards Luncheon on Thursday, March 1, 2018 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

“Black women come first.”

That was once the slogan for Essence magazine, the trailblazing publication for and by Black women, for the most part.

But an anonymous writer is claiming that since the publication was bought by successful entrepreneur Richelieu Dennis of Shea Moisture fame from Time Inc. in 2018, things have been anything but copacetic or pro-Black-women at the publication.

The anonymous open letter to Essence readers and the world calls for the resignation of the Essence leadership, just as the magazine celebrates its 50th year and the debut of the first-ever virtual Essence Festival. 

The posting, titled “The Truth About Essence,” was written by Black Female Anonymous and published in Medium. It says, “We demand the immediate resignation of Chief Executive Officer Richelieu Dennis, Essence Ventures board member and former Essence Communications CEO Michelle Ebanks, Chief Operating Officer Joy Collins Profet, and Chief Content Officer Moana Luu.”

According to the post, the atmosphere at the company is toxic. “They claim CEO Dennis’ ‘surface-level commitment to Black women is driven by greed and a debaucherous sexual appetite.’ They allege that ‘he has a history of sleeping with women on the Sundial staff, (the parent company of Shea Moisture he sold to Unilever in 2017) and for the women who don’t seemingly consent, he openly sexually harasses them at private company events,’ but did not provide any examples of alleged harassment,” Page Six reported.

Dennis, Ebanks, Collins Profet and Luu “collaboratively immortalize an extremely unhealthy work culture,” the posting says. “Scores of talented Black women have been either wrongfully laid off or forced to resign from the company in the past two years. Essence’s C-suite leadership team strategically tells the market it ‘serves Black women deeply’ under the safe seal of 100-percent Black ownership, but for the Black women who make up over 80 percent of the company’s workforce, they are systematically suppressed by pay inequity, sexual harassment, corporate bullying, intimidation, colorism, and classism.”

It continues, “The Essence brand promise is fraudulent. The once exalted media brand dedicated to Black women has been hijacked by cultural and corporate greed and an unhinged abuse of power.”

The article gives Essence management five business days to respond or, “On day six we release personal testimonials of pay inequity, workplace bullying, layoffs while on maternity leave and immediately after giving birth and sexual harassment. Step down now,” it warns.

The anonymous poster of the article also launched a TakeBackEssence Instagram account and tagged the company’s festival sponsors including Coca Cola, McDonalds, Ford, Walmart, Warner Media, and Procter Gamble. “If you value the lives of Black women, you will immediately pull your sponsorship dollars from Essence,” it captioned.

On top of this, the poster launched a Change.org petition to get signatures for resignation of Essence executives.

“The current female staff at Essence are not emotionally safe nor are they fairly set up for professional and economic advancement at the company,” it alleges.

Sources told Page Six that those behind the article are most likely current and former employees.

Essence, meanwhile, has issued a statement rebuking the post. “Anonymity does not negate accountability. Facts will always matter, and we are not afraid of the truth. The allegations and mischaracterizations throughout — whether of pay inequity, intimidation, and otherwise — are unfounded attempts to discredit our brand and assassinate personal character. Further, accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct are extremely serious matters, and we fully understand the gravity of the implications,” it read.