Michelle Willis Passes the SoFu Torch to Alonia Jones
When you turn the pages of South Fulton Lifestyle Magazine, you experience class, distinction and sophistication. This “exclusive, upscale” brand is not by accident. The woman behind the scenes, Publisher Michelle Willis, is strategic about what you experience when you encounter the front cover and what is portrayed on each page.
“I thought my husband was going to divorce me when I purchased the magazine,” laughs the serial entrepreneur. “But I saw this as a huge opportunity. My goal was to extrapolate the awesome things that were happening in South Fulton. This is an area of affluent people, but oftentimes it’s overshadowed by negative events and bad press. People on the outside may not know that this community is rich in history, rich in wealth—not just financial wealth—but historical wealth and emotional wealth,” she adds.
A 10-year resident of South Fulton, Willis is no stranger to the culture of pride in the area. Neighborhoods such as Ben Hill and Cascade were popular areas of Black influence in the 60s and 70s.
“My team wanted to show people what this area is all about. I wanted it to be an engine that could drive business, and I’m proud that we’ve done just that,” she says.
In two short years as publisher, Willis has been extremely successful, growing the magazine from 28 to 56 pages, expanding its readership and tripling ad sales revenue. As the visionary behind every feature cover, Willis and her collaborative partnerships throughout the community have strengthened the South Fulton business climate.
Now as she readies to embark on her next venture, the 42-year-old says it’s time to pass the baton.
“I had just launched Fayette County Lifestyle Magazine, and I was becoming more involved in the corporate affairs of Lifestyle Publications,” says Willis. “I was training other publishers within the group, and the owners saw my value in this role and offered me a corporate position,” she reveals. Taking the new job meant that Willis had to find a buyer for the magazine. She embarked upon an extensive search with prospective buyers in mind.
“This magazine is my baby, so I didn’t want to sell it to just anyone. I was desperately trying to find the right person,” she admits. The opportunity presented itself when Willis served as a guest speaker on a panel at Morehouse School of Medicine and met award-winning writer and former magazine publisher Alonia Jones.
“Alonia was heaven-sent!” exclaims Willis. “One day she was talking about her experience as a former publisher, and I felt like it was God. I had to go with it.”
As publisher of international publication IMANI Magazine from 1997-2004, Jones earned several awards and accolades, including a letter of recognition from former President Bush for the magazine’s 9/11 special coverage. However, after seven years, she had packed away her publisher’s pen.
“Magazines are driven by advertising, and that wasn’t my background. I wasn’t surrounded by the right people to assist me in this area,” Jones admits. “When I closed the magazine, I felt like a failure, like I let God down. I went into a depression, but then God brought me out of my slump.” Jones reveals that when she ended her “pity party,” things started to turn around. Soon the Atlanta native began writing again for various outlets.
“One thing I’d tell business owners is that failure is not final. Look at any person you admire in business and I guarantee you that they experienced one setback after another,” says the Spelman alumna.
After spending years repositioning her career, Jones was in a great mental, spiritual and financial place to entertain Willis when she approached her about purchasing South Fulton Lifestyle Magazine.
As the new publisher, Jones plans to continue sharing the good news of all the great events in South Fulton. As a minister, Jones will use her publisher’s letters and monthly columns as an avenue to uplift and encourage. She also wants to profile an outstanding citizen each month.
“I believe there’s greatness in everybody and everybody has a story to tell,” says the 49-year-old.
Jones and Willis both lead extremely busy lives. The tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit possessed by these ladies won’t allow them to slow down. They are businesswomen, wives and working mothers (Jones is also a grandmother), and they agree that work/life balance is a struggle.
“My formula is God first, family second and everything else comes after that. I have to be quiet to hear His voice,” says Jones. Willis is deliberate about spending time with her four young boys who are all bilingual and high achievers.
“I speak affirmations to my children and over their lives. It is very impactful,” shares Willis.
The two women are ecstatic about their business deal, viewing it as a win-win for both sides as they venture into new territory.
“People asked me when I would get back into publishing and I never said never. So this is a blessing and honor. I’m so excited, and that’s an understatement,” Jones beams.
“I am so fortunate that I get to turn my dreams into reality. Each day I simply try to match my actions with God’s vision for my life,” adds Willis.