By Stacy M. Brown
In a deal that reestablishes Essence magazine as a totally, Black and independently-owned entity, Sundial Brands founder Richelieu Dennis recently announced the purchase of Essence Communications from Time Inc.
The Essence Communications deal also comes a week after Dennis was knighted in his native Liberia by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who admitted him into the Most Venerable Order of the Knighthood of the Pioneer with the Grade of Knight Commander.
Sirleaf reportedly described Dennis as an “Awesome Hero.”
“Talk about surreal,” Dennis said in an interview with NNPA Newswire. “I can’t even bring myself to say [knighthood]. It’s been a phenomenal week.”
Dennis said that the purchase of Essence Communications comes with a deep-seated passion and commitment to making sure that, “we are doing everything we can to leverage the power of the business to impact our community in a positive way and to demonstrate that we can run highly-profitable organizations.”
Dennis continued: “We can also leverage the impact and the resources that those businesses generate to drive economic empowerment and social justice in our communities for ourselves and by ourselves.”
Dorothy Leavell, the chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and the publisher of the Crusader Newspaper Group, said that it was good news to hear that ownership of Essence magazine has returned to the Black community.
“I hope it’s a trend,” said Leavell. “We do need strong Black ownership in our industry, even as I’m expecting that our Black newspapers will prosper in 2018.”
Leavell also said that she hopes that Black entrepreneurs will see the work and products of the Black Press and “seek to restore some light.”
Leavell added: “We need more and more publications that depict us in a positive way and that’s certainly what ‘Essence’ has done in the past and I hope they will continue.”
While financial terms of the Essence Communications purchase weren’t disclosed, Dennis said he’s not only retaining Essence President Michelle Ebanks, who will continue to run the company, but Ebanks will also join the organization’s board of directors and lead an all-Black executive team at Essence, who will have equity stakes in the business.
“I’m overwhelmed with gratitude,” Ebanks told the NNPA Newswire. “The ‘Essence’ brand…has always had a special place in the hearts and minds of Black women and entrepreneurs and leaders like [Dennis] recognized ‘Essence’ and its importance and wants to restore it. This has allowed a dream to come true and we couldn’t be happier.”
Ebanks said that it was an extraordinary and special privilege to be part of an organization that would be responsible for elevating Black women in the industry.
Dennis said the deal to purchase Essence came together rather quickly after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about Time Inc.’s intention to sell the company.
“The stars aligned. We started to think about the implications of what this would mean if ‘Essence’ were truly bought back into the community and the impact it could have on the audience and on the industry to be able to create our content and to monetize our own content,” said Dennis. “There was never a waiver in the commitment on what ‘Essence’ means to our community.”
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, congratulated Richelieu Dennis for purchasing Essence magazine and for returning this iconic publication to 100 percent Black ownership.
“This is a very timely and an important milestone for the Black Press in America and throughout the world,” said Chavis. “Essence magazine, under the able leadership of Michelle Ebanks, is a valued treasure of Black America and the NNPA acknowledges, with supportive gratitude, Richelieu Dennis for this significant Black-owned business transaction.”