Marcia Ann Gillespie, of Rockville Centre, recalls breaking through barriers in magazine industry

A Rockville Centre woman who once dreamed of becoming a historian ended up making history herself by breaking through barriers in the magazine industry.

Marcia Ann Gillespie says she's "just a girl from Long Island who got lucky," but it was her determination that helped her become a trailblazer in the magazine industry. In 1971, Gillespie was hired as the first editor-in-chief of Essence magazine.

Gillespie says she focused on breaking stereotypes of minority women and promoting diversity in the articles featured in Essence. Her vision for the magazine was to celebrate and inform women of color.

Then, in 1993, she was named editor-in-chief of Ms. Magazine, making her the first African-American woman to achieve that position at a mainstream publication in the U.S.

While she's proud of the strides she made, Gillespie says the struggles continue. "While it's great to know you stepped through barriers, it's only great when you do it and when you look back, and lots of people are rushing through," she says. "But, in fact, in this industry in the print side of the world, women of color have not really done that well still, and that's dreadful."

Today, Gillespie shares her love of words as a writing teacher at SUNY Old Westbury. She's hoping to inspire future writers to pick up the torch and blaze new trails for a better world. Gillespie, who also authored the book, "Maya Angelou: A Glorious Celebration," is currently writing a memoir titled, "When Blacks Became Americans."

Her advice to others is to take a chance. "If you're not willing to take a risk, you never know what's possible," Gillespie says.

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