Thursday, August 11, 2005

John H. Johnson: An Appreciation



In the 1990s, I worked in magazine publishing. I began my career as an Editorial Assistant at Woman's Day magazine in 1991. Actually, since I did not have a college degree (long story...) I was hired as a typist, but the editors (primarily women) fostered a mentoring atmosphere, and from the start, as far as anyone was concerned, I was an Editorial Assistant. This was just before the internet explosion, so each Editorial Assistant was assigned a newspaper from around the country to look for potential story ideas. There was also a monthly luncheon for us where an Editor would give us an overview of her job and tips on how we could navigate the magazine world.

I even modeled for WD a bit. Since their audience is "real women", they used "real women" staffers (read: free models) quite a bit. My favorite shoot was a holiday cocktail scene shot on a freezing, rainy winter day at an Upper East Side townhouse (warm brownies and hot chocolate all day in a classic six: Divine!) On a much nicer day with croissants and cappuccino (What do models have to complain about again?) I shot a dreaded "before and after" makeover story. Inexplicably, the "after" photo still hangs in my father's living room to this day.

My next magazine job was as an Assistant Editor at Art Cooper's GQ (ah, the memories of choking down the smoke wafting from Art's office. And the in-office cocktail parties! RIP Art.) Overall, I had a great time at GQ. I was a typical assistant who mailed contracts to writers and answered phones, but I also wrote and did press events.

A moment of silence for the 1 year, 7 months and 3 days of free swag from Chanel, Estee Lauder, Donna Karan.....

Anyway, I give the condensed (cheerful!) version of my career to say that the closest I would have come to any of that in the 1950s or 1960s would have been at 820 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago or 1290 6th Avenue - in the New York offices of the Johnson Publishing Company.

John H. Johnson's simple edict to "show not only the Negroes but also white people that Negroes got married, had beauty contests, gave parties, ran successful businesses and did all the other normal things of life" has had a profound impact on several generations of blacks around the world, including myself, and I am so thankful and impressed with his vision and tenacity.

I don't have anything to say that differs greatly from other tributes you'll read in papers across the country, especially in Chicago. I just wanted to give Mr. Johnson proper respect for the impact that he has had, however indirectly, on my career and on blacks in business and publishing as a whole.

Again, RIP Mr. Johnson.

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