I am now one year into my tenure as Editor-in-Chief of EBONY, the oldest and largest African-American magazine in the county. I thought that by now I would be over the awe I felt the first time I walked into the expansive lobby of Johnson Publishing Company, EBONY's parent company, and peered through the spectacular floor-to ceiling windows overlooking the throng on Michigan Avenue. But the building blows my mind every single day.
Just the fact that a Black man built his company's headquarter on Chicago's most prestigious street is impressive enough, but the building itself is a virtual museum of African-American culture as well as a showcase for 1970s mod design. Each time I go exploring, I discover a new gem: the temperature-controlled room devoted solely to John H. Johnson's many awards; a waiting area with leopard-print wallpaper; a pair of funky green and silver leather chairs tucked into a corner; the unreal art collection filled witn Beardens, Mayhews and Catletts; the fahbulous floor-to-ceiling pink conference room on the third floor.
However, my best discovery in 820 South Michigan Avenue happened when I wasn't looking. Many months ago, I was in a meeting in a glass-walled conference room on the chic orange-and-taupe executive floor when the bold words, "Is white man's money any better?" caught my eye. Hung outside the conference room were a row of framed ad pages that Johnson Publishing Company ran in the New York Times from 1967 through 1970. The ads are genius -- elegant, direct, evocative. But what struck me was the absolute fearlessness and incredible hubris that Mr. Johnson must have possessed to place such potentially incendiary ads in the nation's pre-eminent newspaper. He unflinchingly held a mirror up to white America, debunked its most ridiculous assumptions and publicly challenged its long-held business practices. The cojones!
It was an eye-opener for me, especially as I was thinking through what would be next for EBONY. As Editor-in-Chief, I had been charged with taking the venerable brand to the next level, and making it resonant for a new generation of readers. For 65 years, EBONY has represented the very best of black America, serving as a voice for those who may have felt invisible and disenfranchised. However, it had become clear that it was time for EBONY to be the voice of the new black America: an empowered, informed and optimistic legion of folks ready to get things done. EBONY is an icon in the African-American community, and redesigning it was a daunting task. But sight of those framed ads helped put it in perspective. I can only aspire to that level of courage and confidence. However, from that day forth, I have kept my eyes on the prize, maintained uncompromising standards and have never lost sight of my purpose. Not exactly easy to sustain, but I work in the house that John H. Johnson built. It is brick and mortar proof that anything is possible.
This is an exciting era for EBONY. This year, we presented the redesigned magazine, complete with a modern take on the classic logo, a fresh look and new sections covering a wide range of relevant topics. I was especially proud to introduce our new Elevate section: a monthly guide to living to your full potential -- mind, body and soul. We also introduced an iPad app, and are preparing for a relaunch of Ebony.com. The reaction to the new EBONY has been overwhelmingly positive, and I can't wait to see what happens when we extend the refreshed brand across all platforms.
Johnson Publishing Company is also preparing for a big change. Next year, we will be moving from our current building to a sleek new headquarters downtown. Is it hard to give up the history of 820 South Michigan? Of course. Are we all ready for a fresh environment that reflects our new sensibilities and exciting future? Absolutely!
I would love to hear thoughts about the new EBONY. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter at @amydbarnett with your comments and suggestions.