It was a cold, rainy, Sunday morning in November and rent was due when a 24 year old Susan Taylor was living on her own with her one-year-old daughter, Shana-Nequai. She had $3 in her pocket, and no back up in her bank account. She awoke that day with chest pains, terrified of having a heart attack. Her car was inoperable, so she took public transportation to the emergency room where the doctor told her, her pains were from anxiety and stress. He prescribed rest and relaxation, but for Susan, then earning $500 a month as a freelance beauty editor for Essence magazine, anxiety and stress were normal. After paying rent, Susan was left with $132 to cover a car note, utility bills and other expenses.
Because of her incredible perseverance, Susan’s story now seems like a fairy tale. She became the Senior Vice President of Essence Communications, Inc., publishers of Essence Magazine, and almost overnight became a role model for millions of women worldwide. In 1981, Susan was named editor-in-chief of the prestigious publication after her humble beginnings as a freelance writer, and subsequent promotion to beauty editor.
Susan’s story: The journey to self-discovery
Susan Taylor was born and raised in Harlem and Queens, New York and Jamaica by Lawrence and Barbara Taylor. She worked in her father’s Harlem clothing store, and after graduating from high school, got a job as a receptionist in New York’s garment district. She married and decided to start a cosmetics company of her own. Susan enrolled in cosmetology school at age 23 while she was pregnant with her daughter Shana-Nequai. When she was 24, Susan created Nequai Cosmetics. The company was successful, but when her marriage ended, her cosmetics business became one of the casualties of her divorce.
It was while walking from the Manhattan hospital back home to the Bronx on that dark November day when Susan found herself drawn into a church. There, she heard a sermon by Reverend Alfred Miller that changed the entire direction and landscape of her life. She recalled, “Things seemed to be going so wrong for me. I was a single mother, I didn’t have any money, and I had given up hope. But that minister’s sermon focused me on the truth of my being — as long as we are here, as long as we have breath, and are alive, we can use our minds and change our behavior in ways that will move our lives forward.” This prompted Susan to have faith and give thanks for what she had, despite her life of negative appearances.
“What I began to do was get up with hope in my heart, rather than bemoaning the things that were missing in my life. I began getting up saying ‘I’m going to use this day to my advantage.’ I went out and found another job. I began thanking God for the fact that I had a healthy child. That my mother was still alive. That I was healthy and wasn’t having a heart attack. As I write in the book, (In The Spirit: The Inspirational Writings Of Susan L. Taylor) those minister’s words are still unfolding for me. What I’m trying to live and embrace everyday is that we are more than we seem, we are human and divine, and that I must rest on the strength of my divinity and use it to empower myself, so that I can do work for my people.”
Susan In The Spirit
In her book, Susan makes her message very clear, “I’m writing about what I’m trying to live. My hope is that we can become more empowered and in touch with our spirituality as individuals. If we can do that individually, then we can link arms and aims, and begin to put that underpinning of love and security beneath our people. Part of our problem is we relinquish the spiritual connection that our parents and grandparents felt, and had to God. We as a society have bought into [material] things rather than the people; what we as African people need to do is come back to our tradition which is to honor, love ourselves and our family.”
Susan says her philosophy of success doesn’t come from a structured religious background, but more from a spiritual way of life. “Religion and spirituality are different,” she explains. “Religion has to do with ritual — going to the church, going to the mosque, going to the synagogue. It’s genuflecting, getting down on your knees, and saying prayers. Spirituality means living and breathing the truth of who you are and trying to be aware we are not just flesh, blood and bones — there is a holy spirit that resides in each one of us. We really don’t learn that in the school, or in church.”
Right now the world at large is trying to rekindle its faith. Trying to heal form unsuccessful relationships, disappointments and adversities. Susan says we must change our perception to adversity and disappointment. “It is while you are at a critical juncture that you must resist giving your power to panic, anger or fear. This is when you must use your power to tame your mind and have faith in the truth. Spirit is always at the center of your being; therefore, everything in your life, regardless of appearances, is in Divine Order. It’s easy to have a strong faith when you’re not in crisis. But it’s difficult when you’re in an earthquake in Los Angeles, or your child is doing something that you know is going to hurt him or her, or when you lose your job, spouse, or parent. That’s difficult, but that’s when we need to have our greatest faith. But we’ll only have that faith if we put on what I call our spiritual armor. We can’t wait for a crisis to get good with God. It’s something we have to do every single day.”
Susan’s day begins around 5:30 in the morning with a hot bath, laced with oil and surrounded by candles. She relaxes and listens to a meditation CD then affirms what she’s going to accomplish during the day. After taking a 30-minute walk, she is ready to go. “We have to take what I call quiet time,” She explains. “Press away from the world. It’s not about mantras, prayers and rote incantations, it’s about being still and allowing that still, small voice within you express itself and to give you guidance and direction. When we do that consistently, we feel strong, and when the crisis comes, it may knock us down, but it doesn’t knock us out. We know that there’s something inside of us that is stronger than any adversity outside of us!”