*In this special edition of The Living Legends Series, media legend Jamie Foster Brown talks with EURweb’s contributor Gwendolyn Quinn and reflects on life without her husband, business partner and best friend of 46 years, the loss of Sister 2 Sister magazine, her legacy and her continuous love for black people.
A Chicago native, Brown began her career in entertainment in 1979, when she founded the Washington Theater Group, a group sales company. She later landed a dual position as an advertising secretary and an executive secretary to BET’s founder, Robert “Bob” Johnson and was later promoted to producer of the network’s flagship shows, “Video Soul” and “Video LP.” Johnson asked Brown to write the pilot and the first script for “Video Soul” with Donnie Simpson and Sheila Banks. During that time, she was one of only eight employees at BET. After BET, she launched Sister 2 Sister as a newsletter in September 1988.
Brown is the author of Betty Shabazz: A Tribute in Words and Pictures. She was also entered into the Congressional Record as “one of the most accomplished and respected women in the field of entertainment journalism.” In 1998, then Mayor Marion Barry of Washington, DC, officially named August 18, 1998, “Jamie Foster Brown Day” in the Nation’s Capital. Brown is a graduate of the University of Stockholm in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2008, she received a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Bennett College.
On October 6th, Brown will be honored by The Living Legends Foundation with the Media Award during its 25th anniversary gala at the Taglyan Cultural Complex in Hollywood.
“It’s been a long journey,” says Brown. “In the beginning, I remember how BET broke The Fat Boys. There was nothing like BET and Sister 2 Sister magazine. Everyone in the industry who could support did. There were a few haters, but the people who went over and beyond in support were Sylvia Rhone, Art Kass, Jean Riggins, Demmette Guidry, Hiriam Hicks and L.A. Reid. That’s why I don’t like it when folks say blacks don’t help blacks. If that was true we wouldn’t be here today. I also appreciated my relationships with many of the music executives. They were smart, creative and hardworking. I loved them. The biggest gift in my life is my incredible husband, Lorenzo Brown, my beautiful sons Randy and Russell Brown and my sister Stella Foster. They all made it happen. I’m blessed to receive this honor by the Living Legends Foundation.”
Gwendolyn Quinn: It’s been a year since the loss of your husband, business partner and best friend. How are you and your family doing?
Jamie Foster Brown: Of course, it’s a tremendous loss to us and mankind in general. My husband was a gift to many and especially to me. Never an unkind word, he loved so many people. Grown folks wanted to lay claim on him in some way—calling him Uncle Lorenzo or Daddy Lorenzo. Amazing and puzzling, but also fulfilling to know how he affected so many who grew to love him. The young women he mentored in the company still miss and revere him and absolutely do not want me to date anyone else in life. I don’t know how they think they can control my life, but they do. Our families on both sides miss him sorely, his love, support, and brilliance. He taught me and my sister how to write. He believed in my desire to educate, uplift and love on my people. He had his PhD in Economics and a damn good job when he left to join me on that fabulous whirlwind journey to create, run and lay claim to Sister2Sister magazine. Couldn’t have done it without him.
My oldest son Randall, just got married on May 28th to a beautiful young lady. They remind me of my husband and my union. They work together and are always together, laughing and loving every day. They were best friends before they married. My youngest son Russell has a single hombre’s happy life in real estate and is on his way to spend three weeks in Australia. He’s a traveling man. They are both good and kind people. The best thing Renny and I ever did!
GQ: After over 25 years of Sister 2 Sister, do you plan to relaunch the magazine and digital platforms or will you start another publishing/digital venture?
JFB: At this time, I’m not quite sure if I want to relaunch a magazine or website. I would probably launch in a heartbeat with the right investors and a full team of writers and advertisers. The game has radically changed with an explosion of bloggers, yet my voice remains needed today more than before. There’s such a change in the galaxy which is probably why I need to hurry up and get back in the game. Media is larger than ever, but incredibly meaner and unbridled than ever. But my journey hasn’t ended, there’s still so much to do. There are so many who clamor for me to return in that space. I may. However, not right now, I’m interested in hosting, moderating and speaking to large audiences young and old. I feel I have much to share. I’m sort of a puzzle right now, but I’m putting all the pieces in place to get it together.
GQ: What do you feel was great about Sister 2 Sister?
JFB: I am constantly stopped on the street and told how much I influenced, changed or helped someone and their families. I had forgotten that there were so many things, so many opportunities to help God’s kids here on earth. Allowing those who are criminally and unjustly incarcerated to have a voice in my magazine monthly gave them much hope, education and a sense of belonging. They had a voice. Today they love on me in the street, the grocery store, and night club, anywhere they see me. This is a reward, a blessing I cherish.
GQ: What were some of the most difficult lessons you had to learn about publishing and the digital age evolution—specifically in the African American market?
JB: When I returned from Europe after nine years abroad, I saw my girlfriends were having babies without husbands and our men were on the streets selling and using drugs. Men were pushed from their loved ones by the government because the mother of their children was receiving public assistance and that separated the father from their children and family. And women were leaving their homes and children to work and grow stronger and more powerful in society. There were bra burnings. It was a blessing and a curse. I was in shock. Morals were gone, families fractured, children left to be raised by others. I sought to give another understanding to my people through celebrities. Celebrities and videos were a new and popular drug to our society. And I helped supply a never-ending supply of talent, music, and visuals to the public. I was in a great position. I was hired to produce Black Entertainment Television’s “Video Soul” show featuring Donnie Simpson, which gave me access to so many of our then new celebrities: Whitney Houston, LL Cool J, Run DMC, Beyoncé, so many more to follow. That was the catalyst, the reason for my husband and me morphing over to start Sister2Sister when I left BET.
It was rough during the 90s when rap became huge. The young folks couldn’t stand any criticism and it was a very dangerous time. Journalists were threatened and even beaten up if the young artists didn’t like what was written about them. Women were objectified in the videos, there was so much violence and destruction. The music took over our children and our community took somewhat of a downward spiral which was very painful to see. It was hard to love on our people when there was so much meanness. There was so much talent and wealth created for the talented few. We no longer were just consumers. Our children now owned their liquor brands, shoe companies, and clothing lines. That was a good thing, but the messaging in the music was at times devastating. It was a heady but difficult time for me. Publishing a monthly magazine was very difficult. By the time we finished with one issue, it was time for another. No time to breathe and reflect. The cost of paper increased and waiting to get your money off the newsstands demanded you had money in the bank for two or three months to pay expenses and salaries before you realized newsstand dollars. Then there was the constant search for the most interesting cover story. How to make the stories, cover lines, and pictures compelling. Now, with the Internet and social media, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, etc., the celebrities can handle their own publicity. People want their information in six seconds, not in six weeks. It seemed magazines were going by the way of Corona typewriters. The biggest irritant was how black celebrities wouldn’t protest or block white media if something was written about them they didn’t like. They held black media to a higher standard and that irritated me completely. Also my magazine was never gossip. I published what folks said. I didn’t add or alter anything. It’s not my way.
GQ: If Sister 2 Sister was still around, what would you do better?
JFB: If Sister2Sister was still here, I would use more young people, cut back on expenses and make it a training center for the young, but also a place for elders to share their knowledge. We’re not teaching our kids a damn thing. And even adults are wilding out. I would concentrate more on how to get our families and children back together. How we can work and live together in compounds. Life is harsh now. Common jobs are not available through automation. We would concentrate more on how to fix our lives in a time of turmoil, fewer jobs, mean words, drugs, crazy and unbridled leaders.
GQ: What was your biggest story ever published with Sister 2 Sister and what was your best-selling issue?
JFB: I had many groundbreaking exclusives. The cover featuring the first hip hop marriage between Treach and Pepa. Deelishis always sold well. There was something about her life that folks just devoured. When Bobby and Whitney were newly married and on their love boat and she gets a cut across her face, they called to give me the story. Much later, Bobby also granted me an interview when he wouldn’t talk to any press outlets. He was offered much money, but refused all others. I think that was the biggest selling issue and I’m thankful still today for his believing and trusting in me. Bobby always believed in helping his own people, something rare especially with celebrities.
GQ: What advice would you give someone starting a traditional magazine and a digital platform today?
JFB: As far as advice, I sought it constantly. I didn’t know what I was doing. It started out as a newsletter. I had left BET and Sylvia Rhone and Art Kass gave me my first ads. I’ll never forget that.
GQ: What was the best advice you ever received from someone and by whom?
JB: I think the best advice I remember was from my former boss, BET founder Bob Johnson, who told me that his investors told him to keep the costs lower than the expenses. Which I was able to do for a while, but with the Internet taking over, the music industry was financially and severely harmed. When there were a dozen or so major and independent record labels, they were quickly fading away. Napster was in full effect and we all know music comes free today. So many of those music folks lost their jobs and money shrunk and so did their budgets. We depended a lot on music ads. People and resources we had cultivated were no longer in place and we lost their support. It was unbelievable. Shocking!
GQ: What’s next for you?
JFB: Today, I miss my husband of 46 years and I love my people more today than ever. I’m faithful. Love God and love my people. I must continue but where I’ll land, let’s wait and see.
Gwendolyn Quinn is an award-winning media specialist with a career spanning over 25 years. She is the founder of the African American Public Relations Collective (AAPRC) and the publisher of Global Communicator. Her weekly columns, “Inside Broadway with Gwendolyn Quinn” and “My Person of the Week” are published with EURweb.com. Quinn is also a contributor to Souls Revealed and Handle Your Entertainment Business. Contact her at [email protected].