On September 9, the opening day of New York Fashion Week, a group of young Black women staged a silent demonstration. The 20-something ladies wanted to acknowledge the first time in their lifetimes that Essence magazine—a formidable Black women’s print beloved by scores Black girls for 40 years—does not have a Black fashion director. The group of professional and educated women, many of whom are fashion and media insiders, also stood in protest of the added fact that there are no Black fashion directors at any mainstream fashion or lifestyle publication.

Dressed in all black, the walkers carried signs depicting every fashion director in Essence magazine’s 40-year-old history. Large signs in bold font read, “I Am Susan Taylor,” “I Am Kevin Stewart,” “I Am Harriette Cole.” Signs also read simply, “I Am A Black Fashion Director.” The demonstration was informed by the iconic 1968, “I Am A Man” march.

The walk began at the Essence magazine headquarters at 50th street and concluded at 63rd street in front of the Lincoln Center, the new home of New York Fashion Week.

CLUTCH magazine was on hand for the demonstration and walked in solidarity and support of the cause.

The organizers were moved to action after discovering Essence magazine hired a White fashion director. The walk’s participants were primarily inspired by Michaela angela Davis, a fashion and media veteran who boldly spoke out to several media outlets, and exclusively to CLUTCH, about her sadness about the print’s shocking decision.

Davis was not only a muse for what the organizers deemed, “Fashion In Action!,” she was an on-hand organizer, and trailed the ladies for the entire walk.

CLUTCH spoke to the “Fashion In Action!” walk producer Quan Lateef, a burgeoning media professional and host of the popular New York-based radio show Avenue Pink. Lateef partnered with Davis and assembled the walk participants. With the help of assistant Bayyina Black, Lateef even organized a police escort to accompany the women as they peacefully marched.

“I’m so humbled right now by the grace and power of this Black girl movement,” Lateef shared. “We came out here with love as the driving force and remained peaceful and compassionate throughout.”

The group of women didn’t speak one word. They allowed their own image—brave and fierce young Black women—to be the only speaker.

Lateef further explained the demonstration’s motivation. “We chose to make this a silent demonstration because we were not angry or bitter. We didn’t need to shout or holler. We’re just over it!” Lateef continued, “Whether the powers that be heard it or not, our silence spoke volumes.”

The walkers were passionate about the demonstration, and many were moved to tears. Bayyina Black, an organizer and walk participant, explained that the demonstration was bigger than Essence. “When I first heard of Essence magazine’s decision to hire Ellianna Placas, I was definitely shocked, but was not as upset as I thought I would be.” Black shared that it wasn’t until she engaged in the planning of “Fashion In Action!” that she realized it wasn’t just about Essence magazine. “I had a very real and open dialogue with Michaela angela Davis and realized this issue was a lot bigger than Essence.” Black continues, “On a larger scale, in the year 2010 there is only one woman of color, Nina Garcia, who is a fashion director in the entire fashion industry.”

The “Fashion In Action!” New York Fashion Week march proves that it’s not about complaining but moving to action in order to evoke real change. The demonstration also represents a shift of the hip-hop generation’s cultural memory. The Black protest tradition has been largely about singing, wailing, and, at times, even screaming. The walkers’ decision to remain silent, and, at a point near the end, stand in stillness, was a powerful and moving display to bear witness.

At the peak of the walk the women generated a slew of fascinating reactions from the city’s spectators. One man yelled, “Why aren’t you speaking!” People passing by stopped and read the signs, questioning who many of the names were. A little Black girl said, “Mommy! Look at the models!”

Once the demonstration reached 63rd street, and the ladies stood silently directly across from the Lincoln Center, there was full-on crowd. More police officers, smiling supporters, confused fashionista on-lookers, and even Harriette Cole herself, who reported live for BET News. Cole interviewed Davis on-site and asked about the demonstration. Davis said it is more of a tribute and homage to the women who paved the way.

A lauding salute it was indeed. After the tribute ended, we spoke to Jasu Sade, one of the participants who marched in 4-inch stilettos. Sade shared she was still overwhelmed by the emotional high of it all. “We did it for the right to illustrate our own stories and to restore our legacy.”

In the end, participants kept a hold of what is likely to become piece of Black American memorabilia. We held our “I Am A Black Fashion Director” signs all the way home, back to Brooklyn.

And the movement continues! New York University’s Institute of African American Affairs will host a panel discussion, “Fashion Takes a Trip to Post-Racial USA?”, featuring Esther Armah, Michaela angela Davis and Isolde Brielmair. The critical discussion will talk “progress, power, presence, diversity in the world of publishing and media” on Friday, September 17, 6pm at 41 East 11th St. at University Place 7th floor. CLUTCH will be there, and we hope to see our New York-based readers there too!

Photo Credit: The brilliant fashion photographer Marc Baptiste was on hand to document the tribute. Baptiste bestowed the images online exclusively with CLUTCH.

Like Us On Facebook Follow Us On Twitter
  • I’m all for protest, but, why at NY Fashion Week? What did the two things have to do with each other?

  • Kim wrote: “I can say that people are none to happy to have you around in positions of influence and control.”

    Really? I mean, really? If your perception is that people are “none to happy to have you around,” I don’t doubt it and you shouldn’t be surprised or upset by that.

    Being bitter, petty, angry and continually stalking behind people to ‘say’ things like “you are a hypocrite” (as you did to Beauty Is Diverse) and “you really are a joke” (as you did to moi) – just because they see things differently or don’t have the same opinion as you — makes it very clear why no one would want “to have you around” period, let alone in any position of influence or control!


    • Kim

      Oh. The little girl is upset. LOL! And that is why you will never be in that position of influence and control unless you are feeding off of the backs of AA women. I’m doing quite well as an MD/JD. I control my own destiny. Your dislike for AA women is so intense it radiates through the information high way. The balck girl could be Little Bo Peep and you would still find something wrong.

    • Whatevah you say (or lie you attempt to make others believe about being an MD, JD), trick! Really…I believe you! *giggle*
      Obviously I own you…else you wouldn't stay tugging at my thong, commenting behind me and all up in my stuff!

  • Akai Is a TROLL

    Read the Name and stop entertaining her/his/its foolishness.

    On to the next one.

    • Leah

      I’d really like to know what you & Kim base your accusations on that Akai is a troll and has prejudices against black women, when in fact she doesn’t exhibit standard “trollish” behaviors but offers information, insight and even cites news media in her responses. And how is she biased against AA women? Because she doesn’t agree with the fodder that’s fed by the likes of Michaela Angela Davis?? Because she acknowledges that racism DOES exist in the world but doesn’t support bigotry BY ANYONE? Baseless and degrading accusations of someone being a troll or having racist tendencies shouldn’t be thrown around nonchalantly. It’s not a good look for either of you or Clutch.

    • @Leah: Let’s ignore these h**!

      Some of this is probably my fault, so e-mail me!

    • It’s based on the fact the she disagrees with their points of view and dares to call people out on bullsh!t aka the victim mentality being displayed. Fashion? I mean really, fashion? This is something that is purely elective people! C’mon now really, if black women of any stripe want to be taken seriously we need to put our power behind real issues, otherwise our numbers and voices become meaningless.

      This was such a bloody waste of time, effort and the tips of 4 inch stiletto heels. get behind a better school system for our schools to make sure that our children graduate and are able to compete on a college level and the world stage. Spend all that effort on HIV/STD education for our young women who are the fastest growing segment of newly contracted HIV cases in this country. Get behind better, more affordable housing for poor and low income families and better/low cost health services for our communities, and I could go on and on and on. Really, just a blasted waste of time. we need to know where our priorities lie people.

  • Clnmike

    Glad to see the ladies taking a stand. If Essence is going to be a magazine that caters to a specific group, in this black women, it should set an example across the board in the magazine and behind the scenes..

  • LisaP

    Some people don’t want to let go of black victim mentality and Michaela Angela Davis is one of them. It’s how she makes a name for herself these days because let’s be honest, no one’s checking for her to do anything with fashion anymore. She would have no platform if she gave up on the downtrodden black victim frame of mind. Plus it’s always been a way to prove her “blackness” despite her very pale complexion and green eyes.

    The truth is that white people have always been involved in everything from black publications to tv shows to colleges. Both Girlfriends and The Game were produced by Kelsey Grammar. Yeah the white guy who’s best known for playing Frazer. I don’t think anyone would argue that because there was a white guy at the helm of these shows, they didn’t cater to their target demographics or become less black.

    The other truth is Michaela has had a long standing beef with Angela, Essence’s EIC. Angela fired Michaela and best believe, Michaela’s still pissed! It’s this beef that drove her to not give Angela the benefit of the doubt that she poured through countless resumes and vetted qualified black professionals. It’s that beef that drove Michaela to disrespect and publicly lay into Angela and her decision to hire Placas. Michaela has an axe to grind with Angela and saw this as the perfect opportunity to do it.