NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

‘Give from Our Overflow’

Taylor Calls on NIH’ers To Adopt, Share Healthy Behavior, Attitude

Taylor speaks
Susan L. Taylor of Essence magazine

Susan L. Taylor was a 20-something, broke, exhausted newly single mom waiting in the emergency room, fully expecting the chest pain she’d had all week to be diagnosed as a heart attack. She was overwhelmed, over-burdened and under-employed. She was not, however, experiencing a heart attack. “You’re having an anxiety attack,” the doctor explained, “and you need to relax.” 

Still worried, but relieved and grateful her ailment wasn’t worse, Taylor decided to walk home and save the $5 in her pocket for food for her daughter. Wandering into a church service, she heard a sermon, a message unlike any she’d heard in her Catholic school upbringing—that with our mind we shape our world. That was decades, a successful 37-year publishing career and several more thriving ventures ago.

These days, at age 71 the chief editor emeritus of Essence magazine, Taylor focuses much of her energy traveling the globe, inspiring others “to focus our energy inward, where wisdom resides—and the courage needed to serve our own critical needs—so we can be of service to others.” She came with a special message for NIH’ers.

“In this amazing, amazing institution dedicated to wellness—where your mandate is research and sharing critical information gleaned and instituting wellness in our communities—you have a mighty task,” she said recently in Lipsett Amphitheater. “We need you to be healthy and strong, so you deliver well your work that can help people heal and thrive.”

NIH’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion invited Taylor to give her “Be Inspired” presentation as part of its “EDI365” commitment to promote dignity and respect every day of the year. The effort emphasizes, among other things, workforce well-being, which in turn can help boost employees’ level of service. 

“Your behavior sets the standard for others to follow,” said Joy Gaines, women’s portfolio strategist in EDI, who introduced the program, “and let’s face it, sometimes we all need a little encouragement and inspiration.”

Taylor’s visit also came on the heels of National Women’s Health Week, an annual observance led by the Office of Women’s Health in the Department of Health and Human Services since 1999. The week begins each year on Mother’s Day and encourages women to make their health a priority. 

“When we live in balance­—eat to live, not only to satisfy our taste buds, exercise, take quiet, reflective time—we become healthy in body, mind and soul,” Taylor said to the audience. “We are happy and can give from our overflow.”

Founder & CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement, Taylor linked NIH’s mission directly to the work of the nonprofit organization she and her Essence team established after Hurricane Katrina—known then as Essence CARES—to help rebuild and restore communities hardest hit by the storm. The movement has since flourished beyond its original purpose and geographic area to help “break the cycle of generational poverty and end the state of emergency among our struggling young,” Taylor explained. 

Armed with impact videos outlining crisis points, she came to NIH seeking volunteers to join the effort by donating just 1 hour a week to a child in need. 

CARES recruits mentors, then trains and deploys them around the country. Citing national data, Taylor said more than 15 million young people—most of them in under-resourced communities—are waiting for mentors. Over the years, CARES has sent out 135,000 mentors in 58 cities.

Taylor speaks in front of a crowd
Taylor addresses a packed Lipsett Amphitheater.

Photo:  Chia-Chi Charlie Chang

“The challenges you read about every day in the newspaper, the ones we are dealing with? They’re not insurmountable,” Taylor said. “No matter where your ancestors came from, this is not the hardest part of the journey. The hardest part has been done. But, we’ve got to be fit, focused, organized and disciplined in order to carry on and build upon the gifts that our foreparents gave to this nation and the world.”

Three years ago, her organization launched a second tier called “The Rising—Elevating Education, Expectations and Self Esteem.” 

Working with 60-some educators and other partners, The Rising developed a 10-pillar empowerment curriculum adaptable to different cultural communities. The model is currently up and running in schools in south side Chicago, Detroit and south Florida.

“You’re more than you seem,” said Taylor, reciting the core principle that aims to help youngsters see beyond their current circumstances to nourish their potential.

Taylor was quick to point out, however, that would-be helpers must first develop their own healthy behavior and attitudes—eat better and reduce stress, for example—so they’re in position to reach back and encourage others. 

To NIH’ers—specifically women and people of color—she said to “fire the judge, the inner critic that makes us believe that we are deficient in some way, when the opposite is true. We are more than enough! Be mindful, change the inner dialogue to a positive one,” Taylor emphasized.  

“Realize that working here, you’re doing the work of life, saving, healing and nourishing lives,” Taylor said. “We have a responsibility as the able, stable ones in our community. We cannot win the battle for wellness with broken, exhausted troops. Be your own best friend and give yourself to yourself before you give yourself to others. This is all of our primary responsibility.” 

Take time to be still, appreciate all that you have and use the enormous power inside yourself, she advised, reminding the assembly of what an attitude adjustment did for that frightened young divorced mother in the ER who couldn’t make ends meet and thought she might be dying.

“I didn’t always have it all together—still don’t as a matter of fact,” Taylor concluded. “I’m doing this work because I’m a bridge. I’m a bridge between people like you—people in positions of power, people at the White House—and other people who have no voice, who are struggling along the margins and who need us to awaken to our own wellness so that we can do the larger critical work we were sent here to do…Gratitude makes everything that you have more than enough. Be in gratitude all day long and watch how your life begins to change.” 

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Assistant Editor: Eric Bock (link sends e-mail)

Staff Writer: Amber Snyder (link sends e-mail)