Cruising through Essence
By Brandon Astor Jones
Many readers have written to me asking why I write in Australian publications. The answer is because most Americans, especially editors and publishers, are not interested in hearing what goes on in the heads of prisoners — especially if the prisoners are males and African-American. So I'd like to invite readers to come with me as I briefly cruise through an issue of a very popular US magazine.
Essence magazine is one of the USA's leading publications produced mainly with African-American women in mind. Having read it for several years now, I've been able to develop some interesting profiles on a few of the people who are frequently featured or referred to therein.
History proves that black people are among the most tenacious and accomplished cultural groups in North America: that is to say that because we survived and overcame the socioeconomic, physical and emotional yoke of slavery — to the extent that is possible in a roundly bigoted society — our determination as a people individually and collectively is second to none.
For example, consider Susan L. Taylor. In little more than a decade she went from a single parent on welfare to become the editor in chief of America's most widely read black women's magazine. That would have been no small feat even if she had been a highly influential member of the elite. I tried to interview Taylor, for the purpose of doing a column about her in GLW, by mail, but obviously she has been too busy to respond to my letters. Perhaps she will be able to find time for that interview, by mail, this year.
In the May 1994 issue of Essence, there is an article written by Jill Nelson, entitled "Doing Time". It offers a revealing look into the plight of black women in prison. The number of women of colour in prison has risen dramatically; 80% of those women are mothers. Nelson says "We must care" about our sisters in prison. I agree entirely.
Sandra Barnhill, an attorney and founder of Aid to Imprisoned Mothers, Inc. (AIM), formed that organisation to give hope and practical assistance to our sisters in prison. I love her for doing that. I've seen her several times here at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center's visiting room, but I have never had the opportunity to meet and speak with her. It is my hope that some day soon she and/or her colleagues will see fit to form such an organisation for black men in prison too. The work she does is in great need of expansion, and the expansion ought not be gender restricted.
Also in the issue cited there are dual articles by a daughter and mother team entitled, "Mama's WHITE". It is a noteworthy read. Both women are accomplished writers. If you want to know what it is like to be the black daughter of a white Jewish mother in America, Lisa Jones' book Bulletproof Diva: Tales of Race, Sex and Hair is a must read. The younger Jones is a columnist for the Village Voice; her book is, among other things, a compelling collection of her columns and essays from that weekly newspaper.
Hattie Jones, who was once married to Lisa's father LeRoy Jones, will let you experience second hand what it is like to be Jewish and white and to bring up black children in a very colour-conscious society. The elder Jones' memoir How I Became Hattie Jones shows her to be blacker than many blacks I've known.
As I read further I came across a caption that urged its readers, "Let's support Black-owned bookstores!" Beneath that was a list in which the Reverend Albert Cleage's businesses appeared". Several years ago I began writing to Reverend Cleage seeking fellowship and spiritual advice. I wrote him no less than four times; to this day he has never replied. Alas, that is not uncommon for clergy in and about the state of Georgia.
A couple of years later I wrote Peal Cleage, the Reverend Cleage's daughter, who edits the quarterly magazine Catalyst. She is also a columnist for the Atlanta Tribune, and is well known for her social and feminist activities. I asked if she would donate her time and/or money to a prisoner-operated program that helped feed, clothe and house the homeless. Cleage immediately sent two cheques in response to that plea, which caused me to think she is very different from her father on matters involving black men in prison. Last year her book Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot was released; it too is a brilliant compilation of her essays and social commentary.
So if you are interested in seeing life through the eyes of these impressive women, reading their books will be time made good use of. And if you ever get a chance, take a look at Essence; it is an excellent magazine.
I too plan to present five years of published and unpublished essays, along with three brief chapters of biographical excerpts, in book form, as soon as I can find a publisher. I am seeking an Australian publisher because for the past two years many of my writings have been published in GLW. Any person or publisher who is interested, and could be helpful in any way, is urged to contact me.
[The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He is happy to receive letters commenting on his columns. He can be written to at: Brandon Astor Jones, EF-122216, G2-51, GD&CC, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233, USA.]