During the last National Newspaper Association Annual Convention, held in New Orleans, the organization’s president, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, interviewed the esteemed artist Stephanie Mills prior to her performance before attendees. Mills revealed an absolute respect for the historic contributions and current role of the Black Press, while also planting her flag uncompromisingly for the culture.
Here is the bulk of that interview.
CHAVIS: How important has the Black Press been to you in your evolution?
MILLS: Oh, very important. I mean, it’s made me who I am. I’ve always felt like the Black Press was more important. A lot of entertainers, they feel like if they go to the pop press or whites are there, that it’s more important. But I’ve always felt the complete opposite, because I’m a Black woman. So, I feel that the Black Press is everything to me.
CHAVIS: And to the Black Press, you are everything.
MILLS: Thank you. But, I must say that when “The Wiz” started, they didn’t want us on Broadway. And it wasn’t until (Kim Harper’s) mom belonged to a relatively big Black church and mother belonged to Cornerstone Baptist church in Brooklyn. And they would bring busloads of people from the church to the theater until we did our commercial. They kept us alive until we did that. But they did not want me on Broadway.
CHAVIS: Interesting. But you were such a star on Broadway. At what point did you think that the Broadway community embraced you after you packed every performance?
MILLS: They embrace you for the moment, and then they take me back to square one again. They embraced me for Broadway, but then when I made records, I have to go back to Black radio and you have to go back to the Black press before white press will even touch you. And it’s still that way today. Like, you can’t get on pop radio until you go to Black radio, which radio is not what it use to be back in the day. But still, it’s the same. They don’t accept you until your own accept you. So, that’s why entertainers today should really bow down to the Black Press.
CHAVIS: As you reflect back over the decades, what are some of the lessons that you have learned that contribute not only to your sustainability, your resilience, but your longevity?
MILLS: I think not listening to the noise and having people around you that hold you accountable to your actions and staying true to who you are and not afraid to be Black. I find that a lot of entertainers are afraid to really be Black. And there’s nothing more beautiful than being Black. I think that throughout my years, I’ve learned that. I’m 65 years old now, and I’ve been in this business my entire life. This is all I’ve ever done. I’ve never had what you call a real job. So, I’ve experienced having hit records and not having hit records and being on Broadway and not being on Broadway. And it’s a difference, and they treat you different. And they always wanna take you back to square one. You always have to prove who you are and what your talent is. And I’ve never let them take me away from my base, even though they tried many times to take me away from my base. And I never let them take me away.
CHAVIS: So much is going on in 2022, with Black women, Black people, people of African descent.
MILLS: There’s so much going on with the Roe v. Wade. It’s amazing to me that men want to tell us what to do with our bodies. They have no right to tell us what to do with our bodies because they don’t experience anything that we go through. So, they don’t understand it. And I just think that we need to vote. We need to all stick together. There’s power in numbers. We are so powerful. And I think that’s why they do a lot of things. Try to suppress our Black Press, especially like when you guys come to the Grammys or the Emmys or the Oscars or anything. They always put you at the end, so no one can talk to you. And I really admire the ones that do take the time to talk, because we wouldn’t be anything if the Black Press didn’t hold us up. I mean, back in the day was Right On magazine and Ebony and all those people. And then when BET was really Black, they showed our videos. So, I think that we really are powerful.
CHAVIS: You’ve expressed what gives you concerns. I want to know what gives you your greatest hope today.
MILLS: My love of my people. My love and my hope of my people. My son gives me the greatest hope. Looking at our babies, that’s why it’s so important for us to nurture our young. They are our future. For mothers to really raise their children. Not let them raise themselves, but raise their children. And make it important to have dinner together, to talk together, not just send their children off to somebody else. I keep my son with me. I take him everywhere with me and I just think it’s important that we show a lot of love. I don’t want us to give up love, and showing love and compassion to one another. You can’t trust the outside. We have to come together and really love and be compassionate and supportive.