Erica Kennedy Johnson’s Life Was An Inspiration

The blogosphere is abuzz about the sudden death of 42 year-old rock star like blogger Erica Kennedy Johnson. The former fashion publicist was a New York Daily News correspondent who wrote about fashion and entertainment for Vibe, In Style, Paper and Elle UK. She published the hip-hop satire “Bling” in 2004, which became a New York Times best seller and there were talks of it becoming a movie. Kennedy’s second novel, “Feminista,” was published in 2009 and reflective of her feminist view on life.

The Sarah Lawrence College and Oxford University graduate was widely known on Twitter for her witty and spirited tweets. She recalls in one of her blogs how she first got Diddy to try on a suit, which was a stark change from his then familiar baggy pants and baseball caps which were hip hop uniforms.

“For me, the fascinating thing about seeing Diddy all dapper is that I still remember when he didn’t even have a good suit. Because I had to force him into one.

At that time I was recent college grad. Translation? Poor. But as a middle-class black girl who’d spent my junior year cycling around Oxford in penny loafers, I knew what fork to use when or why a sorbet might arrive before a main course or how to find my way to the Louvre without speaking the language.

And when I didn’t know something, I’d ask someone who did.  Which is what you do when you feel like you have the right to be wherever you are.

But as any woman who has driven around in circles with a man who refuses to ask for directions knows, saying “I don’t know” doesn’t come easily to those with male genitalia, especially rich black men who find themselves in unfamiliar environs.”

No one yet knows what Johnson died of and quite frankly it doesn’t really matter.  It is apparent from the hundreds of tweets that the lives she touched and the writers she inspired are her legacy.

But as a writer, who was such a social media influence, the sidebar conversations on the web, where very little is secret, is about her quiet struggle with bipolar disease.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder affects more than 5.6 million Americans. While the rate of bipolar disorder is the same among African Americans as it is among other Americans, African Americans are less likely to receive a diagnosis and treatment for the disorder.

As reported by several mental health specialists most African Americans with bipolar disorder are going undiagnosed and untreated because:

  • A mistrust of health professionals
  • Reliance on family and religious community, rather than mental health professionals, during times of emotional distress.
  • A tendency to talk about physical problems, rather than discuss mental symptoms, or to mask symptoms with substance abuse or other medical conditions.
  • About 25 percent of African Americans do not have health insurance.
  • Continued misunderstanding and stigma about mental illness.

Even with insurance and access to healthcare the pull to resist threatens those when they need it. Her fellow blogger Afrobella may have summarized the feelings of many when she wrote, “I hope she knew how much she was loved and by how many people. I hope she knows how much she will be missed. Love you, Erica. BBRTW.”


  1. snocomment says:

    With all that’s being said, so much is not being said. Those of us who suffer know what a struggle it is, when we get in that place, to emerge. Death calls to us as the only way out of the pain. It beckons us with promises of a better life for those that we will leave behind. It whispers to us that everything will be OK if only. And we listen. I’ve been there. It takes courage. It takes courage to listen and to ignore. Sometime I wonder which takes more courage. In our “right” mind we know that you don’t remedy a temporary problem with a permanent solution, but it’s so tempting to stop the pain. I remember answering every question with I want to die.” And I really did want to die, just to make the pain of living go away. It was like being raw, stripped down and every nerve dead. Why continue? Yet here I am. Everyday is a struggle.

    • I don’t know you but I am praying for you. Whatever help you need, please go get it. Those who love you would not be better off without you. The pain would just shift to them everyday of their lives.

      • snocomment says:

        @Valerie, thank you. I’m in a better place today, but that’s the point. It comes and goes. I was diagnosed in 2005. Prior to that I was diagnosed with Major depressive disorder. I’ve been on and off so many medications but the side affects are so severe. As a creative person, they dull my senses. I become a compliant non feeling entity. Everyone loves me medicated. I do whatever they want. I can’t live like that so I play roulette hoping that my metaphoric gun is not loaded.

  2. I am of the belief that the majority of people in this world suffer from depression. So many who do and are not aware of what is really wrong with them or how to get help. I know what it is like and I know what it does and can do to you. It is a daily battle with and within ones self. Some make it through it and some don’t. It is a powerful disease, it eats at the mind and breaks down the senses, thus causing the body to just give. Yes it is true how the medications prescribed and used by the masses causes all types of mind blowing body lowering I don’t care “zombie” like states of mind. I say keep getting checked until your doctor gets you on a medicine that works and regulates you. I am a witness that it takes time but you can do it and you will make it. My heart aches for the ones who just couldn’t take it anymore. Please know that it was not that person who you knew, but an even stronger entities. In the Word of God He tells US that Satan come to: Rob, Kill, and Destroye. We must submitt our lives to God, and confess our beliefs in His Son Jesus who died for all of our sins. (The entire World). I say to you: Pray without ceasing, if you can’t say nothing but, LORD, you are Praying,!!! Trust Him, for He hears you. Know that where ever The Holy Spirit of God dwells, the devil Can NOT! reside, the Father ushers away the darkness, and escorts in the light. He is the Light. Yes, God Is Able, and He has All Power on Earth and in Heaven. I have been there and like so many others, I made it through. I still have little episodes where I draw back and away and mostly sleep but I have love ones family who through Our Father know when I am slipping and they Praise the Lord “Intercede” on my behalf. I was thrown into what is known as: Clinical Depression which occurred after having a Historectomy in 1985. I didn’t have a clue as to what was happening but, I knew it was not normal. It took some years, but God, through Him I pressed on daily, it was so hard many times I did not even remember the day present or past but I came through them. I was so deep in the darkness and seeing someone else in the mirror, and the “Voices” Lord Have Mercy…He Did. I came back strongly one night when I heard this voice from the deep darkness say to me: You are no good, don’t nobody love you not even your children, God don’t love you, you are all alone, then the voice asked me, What are you going to do? You ought to kill yourself. I sat up straight in my bed that very night and I said: Satan You are a Lie!!! I felt the pressures that had been binding me down, seemingly snatched from within me, my head felt so lite and I just felt energy and my life as it returned to me whole. The Light of Our Father renewed my broken spirit, He healed me to the deepest depts of my SOUL. Can’t nobody do us like Him. I Pray mostly I say: Lord Have Mercy Jesus, Jesus Please help me, and I survive another day. Don’t give up, or give in. The Father LOVES you and He has an awesome plan for you in your life. Live, Love and keep on Pressing on in Jesus’ Name. For there is no other name on this earth, by which any man can be saved. Proverbs: 3: 5-6 says: TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL THINE HEART AND LEAN NOT TO THINE OWN UNDERSTANDING. IN ALL THY WAY ACKNOWLEDGE HIM, AND HE WILL DIRECT THY PATH. I AM A LIVING WITNESS. May the Lord bless Erica’s Family, and everyone whos life she touched. It is my sincere Prayer that the Father dispatched her many Angels, and that she is now with Him in Heaven. Bless the Awesome Name of JESUS, and may His blessing, protection, and continued guidance be forever with each of you. Gotta Love, Earnestean Holloway, (Sam’s Wife)…Smiles!!!

  3. EM Brown says:

    Pray if you will (as I think we all should) but get medical help!

    • someonewhohasbeenthere says:

      I am going to try to sum this up as simple as I can. I am living daily with this disease,I have been in remission for about two years now. I make a choice everyday to choose to be happy. It was once not so simple. I made changes to make my “own” happiness. For years I suffered through shame and silence because of my “blackness”=shame,stigma and Baptist ,religious phoney upbringing. I thank God, I never used drugs to “self-medicate.” I had a traumatic childhood,my counselor and I uncovered that was the root cause of my depression. At 35, I am excited and happy with the thought of a future. I never had hope before. I smile sometimes for no reason…it feels good. I take it one day at a time. We as Black people need to stop the stigma on getting help for mental health issues. Those who are quoting scriptures,please remember that God gave us earthly healers,ex. doctors, therapists and medication because he is not here yet…yes HIS spirit is but he left us provision; that is what a loving Father does for his children. Shame on the Black clergy who are exploiting and enabling the mentally ill…well, if they got better they probably would not keep lining your pockets. I don’t know what this author died from ,but I can appreciate her struggle. Signing off now,feeling free, whole and complete:).

  4. snocomment, that was the most powerful thing I have ever read – both of your comments. So succinct and chilling…oh my God, you are in my prayers too. Please pick up where Erica left off and TELL US. School us. Enlighten us. Until a few minutes ago, I never knew that it was that bad, honestly. People are quick to think of bi-polar as a synonym for crazy and leave it at that, even though we know many people who are apparently self-medicating and we feel helpless because we don’t know how to help.

  5. bloggingwhileblue says:

    Thank all of you for your comments and your sincere understanding. We at Blogging While Blue had hoped that by sharing Erica’s story and her gifts that it would encourage and compel others to come out of the dark. We appreciate your willingness to help shed light and offer hope on this issue for so many others. We sincerely thank you all.

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