Tag Archives: women

Black History Month: To a Dark Girl


Black History Month: Gwendolyn  B. Bennett—To A Dark Girl

I love you for your brownness,
And the rounded darkness of your breast,
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.

Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.

Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow’s mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

In honor of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.


Madam President


Key Lessons

  • Do not let personal circumstances be a check on your imagination or ambitions
  • Create and support community to increase personal resilience and to have greater impact
  • Look for opportunities to “lift as you rise”
MLWalker President Resilience

Courtesy National Park Service

America’s first female bank president was, like its first self-made female millionaire, a black woman. She lived in Richmond, Virginia—the capital of the Confederacy—at the height of Jim Crow. Her name was Maggie Lena Walker. Maggie was born Maggie Lena Mitchell in 1867, the daughter of Elizabeth Draper, a former slave and (possibly) a Northern abolitionist. Her mother was married to a black butler who moved the family to a small cottage some time after her birth.

Mother of Resilience

Elizabeth Draper

A few years later, her mother’s husband was found murdered, apparently the victim of a robbery. Maggie’s mother worked as a laundress to take care of Maggie and her brother while Maggie attended the local black elementary school, inspiringly located across the street from the local jail.

At age 14, Walker joined the Independent Order of St Luke, a women’s civic organization founded in the year of her birth. The organization became the vehicle for Walker’s many philanthropic and entrepreneurial activities. In 1889, she became its executive secretary and in 1895 she organized its juvenile branch. In 1901, she called for the Order to offer burial insurance and in 1903 she organized the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank which she promised would “take nickels and turn them into dollars.” The bank operated like a credit union with depositors able to buy shares of the bank at $10 a share. The bank also offered savings accounts and mortgages. The Order also established the St Luke Herald, a newspaper.

The Order of St. Luke also established the St. Luke Emporium, a department store that hired and sold to black women but this venture was ultimately unsuccessful. In 1906, Walker broke her kneecap and was confined to a wheelchair. In 1915 her husband was killed by their son who mistook him for a burglar. Her son was eventually cleared but died soon after two exhausting trials. Through all these difficulties she remained active. She established the Richmond Council of Colored Women which had as its motto “Lifting as we climb”. In 1920 she helped organize a voter registration drive that was so successful that 80% of black voters were women (this in the first election in which women were permitted to vote). Walker would also serve as the president of the State NAACP and a board member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.
During the Great Depression, Walker would merge her bank with the Second Street Savings Bank and the Commercial Bank and Trust Company. The new entity was called the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company and she served as the chairman of the board until her death in 1934. She had one of the largest funerals in Richmond history and in 1979 her home was made a national historic site and museum.

Walker overcame the challenges of her time and place as well as the tragedies of her life. She pursued success in ways that enable her to contribute to the success of others. In this she exemplified selfless resilience and perseverance. A model for us all.

For more on Maggie Walker, see A Right Worthy Grand Mission by Gertrude Marlowe.

In honor of Black History Month, our regular Tuesday and Friday posts will highlight black entrepreneurs who have displayed exemplary success and resilience.


America’s first self-made female millionaire


BHM Entrepreneurs: Annie Turnbo Malone (1869-1957)

A Pioneer in St Louis

Model of a Black EntreprenuerAnnie Turnbo Malone was quite likely America’s first female self-made millionaire. She pioneered the development and manufacture of beauty products for black women and was a leading philanthropist, making significant donations to black colleges and political institutions even though she herself did not complete high school. In an era when many African-Americans sought to downplay any link to Africa and when cosmetics distributors were accused of diminishing pride in African features, she chose a Mende word, Poro, as her trademark.

Turnbo was born in 1869, the tenth of eleven children born to parents who had only recently moved to Illinois after winning their freedom. She attended high school in Peoria but dropped out due to illness. By age 20 she had developed her own shampoo and scalp treatment to grow and straighten hair. She took her creation to the streets, going around in a buggy making speeches and demonstrating the new shampoo even though she was later described as reticent.  Another resilient black entrepreneurIn 1900, while living in what is now Brooklyn, Illinois, she began to sell the Wonderful Hair Grower, five years before Madam C.J. Walker would market a similar product under the same name. She also developed hair straighteners to replace the damaging grease and the chemicals that were the only alternatives at the time. In 1902 she moved to St Louis to take advantage of the city’s booming economy and to prepare for the 1904 World’s Fair. St. Louis gave her access to the fourth largest black middle class community in the country. She was able to capitalize on the publicity and the sales associated with the World’s Fair to tour the South. There she recruited black women as sales agents and as customers. After five years of service, these women were often rewarded with a diamond ring or other luxurious gifts for their service. In the interim, they earned up to $15/day which compared well to the $11/week that an unskilled white worker earned or the less than a 70 cents/day typical of sharecropper families in the South or the $1.25/day of washerwomen in the North. Because store-based channels were closed to black entrepreneurs, these women and the pyramid distribution model pioneered by California Perfume Company (now known as Avon) were essential to her success. She herself had started first by going door to door with a small group of sales agents and often used free hair and scalp treatments to convince potential customers.

Lifting as she rises

Figure of Entreprenuerial ResilienceAs her business grew, she sparked the career of a number of black women entrepreneurs including Madam C.J. Walker. By 1918, Turnbo would develop the Poro College in St Louis which attracted beauticians from across the country. The college included classrooms as well as 500 seat auditorium and convention facilities which made it a social center for the black middle class who were otherwise shut out of the city’s accommodations (it would become the home of Booker T Washington’s National Negro Business League). It is believed that by this time she was already a millionaire while Walker was denying that she herself was a millionaire. The Guinness Book of Records nonetheless cites Walker as the first self-made female millionaire. By 1922, Turnbo’s products were sold by almost 75,000 agents spread across the U.S., Canada, the Philippines, South America and Africa and by 1924 she was widely regarded as a multimillionaire.

The troubles

Turnbo had the misfortune of marrying poorly. She first married briefly in 1903 but divorced quickly after realizing that her husband did not share her ambitions for Poro. She tried again with Aaron Malone in 1914. That effort ended in a costly 1927 divorce battle in which Malone tried to take credit for much of Turnbo’s success. Local black Republicans supported Malone’s claim and Turnbo settled out of court for an undisclosed amount of cash and real estate. Fruit of Entrepreneurial ResilienceShe left her sizable St Louis mansion and moved to Chicago. There she had difficulty replicating her success owing to competition from Walker’s company and Sarah Spencer Washington (who would also become a millionaire). Turnbo also suffered significant losses in the crash of 1929 and had a difficult time generating sales as the depression persisted and S.B. Fuller (more on him in a later post) came on the scene. She also refused to pay all of the taxes levied against her. This permitted the government to take her business into receivership. In time she would lose her Chicago properties also. Nonetheless, at the time of Turnbo’s death in 1957, Poro College continued to operate in more than 30 cities.

Who was first?

While there is quite a bit of controversy about whether C.J. Walker stole Turnbo’s formula for the Wonderful Hair Grower, it is worth considering that Walker was living in St Louis (and was a former Poro agent). In 1905, Walker claims to have had a ‘dream’ in which she received the ingredients of her own Wonderful Hair Grower (petrolatum, sulphur  and beeswax). These are the same ingredients of Turnbo’s version. In any case, after her inspiration, Walker moved to Denver where a recently widowed sister-in-law lived.

In honor of Black History Month, our regular Tuesday and Friday posts will highlight black entrepreneurs who have displayed exemplary success and resilience.


Black History Month: The Ordeal


Black History Month: Georgia Douglas Johnson—The Ordeal

Muse of Resilience

Georgia Douglas Johnson (1880-1966)

Ho! my brother,
Pass me not by so scornfully
I’m doing this living of being black,
Perhaps I bear your own life-pack,
And heavy, heavy is the load
That bends my body to the road.

But I have kept a smile for fate,
I neither cry, nor cringe, nor hate,
Intrepidly, I strive to bear
This handicap. The planets wear
The Maker’s imprint, and with mine
I swing into their rhythmic line;
I ask—only for destiny,
Mine, not thine.


In celebration of Black History Month, we will post an inspirational cultural item each day.


6 Lessons in Entrepreneurial Resilience


Strategies for Success from Resilient EntrepreneursEveryone suffers setbacks. For some these setbacks fade into the background of their unfolding lives. For the risk-takers in Renee & Don Martin’s Risk Takers: 16 Women and Men Share their Entrepreneurial Strategies for Success they propel them to success. Despite the promise of the subtitle, you don’t hear the voice of the actual risk takers. What you get is a summary of their lives as entrepreneurs set out in the classic situation, complication, resolution plot line.

The vignettes do not center on people overcoming great failures or obstacles but rather on their boldness and tenacity. Our readers will nonetheless be inspired by the story of Gary Heavin’s (Curves) early failures before the success of Curves, Linda Alvarado’s (of Alvarado Construction) work to surmount the low expectations and prejudice that hold back many Hispanic businesswomen, Paul Orfalea’s (Kinko’s) dyslexia and ADHD , David Steward’s (World Wide Technology Inc) resilience in overcoming the peculiar challenges of a black man founding an enterprise technology company in the 1970s, Florine Mark’s (Weight Watchers) battles with obesity and John Paul DeJoria’s (John Paul Mitchell Systems & Patrón Spirits Company) homelessness (albeit it with a Rolls Royce).

The Martin’s abstract six strategies from the experiences of these entrepreneurs:

  1. Find an under-served niche to serve (hit ‘em where others ain’t)
  2. Do not let adversity or failure defeat you
  3. Trust your gut & Just start
  4. Reinvent your company or yourself when necessary (in Silicon Valley, they’d call this pivoting)
  5. Be willing to buck conventional wisdom
  6. Exploit your competitor’s weaknesses and make them your strengths

The Risk Takers has also been subtitled The Risk Takers: 16 Top Entrepreneurs Share Their Strategies for Success


Resilience: Elizabeth Edwards’ Story of Pain & Perseverance


The day before she died from incurable cancer, Elizabeth Edwards posted on her Facebook page: “I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces — my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.” Her second memoir Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities is the expansion of that sentiment.

Elizabeth Edwards wrote Resilience not long after the world found out about both her husband John Edwards’ affair and Mrs. Edwards’ impending death from breast cancer.  The preceding years had been characterized by constant changes in public opinion toward her: she was loved as the plain-but-capable, self-described “anti-Barbie” wife of her Ken doll husband, then loved more when she revealed that she had breast cancer, diagnosed the day after her husband’s running mate John Kerry lost the 2004 election.  Then she was vilified when allegations were made that she was allegedly a shrew, one that was verbally abusive to both her husband and his campaign staff in the 2008 election, damaging her reputation as “Saint Elizabeth”. Then her cancer, once in remission, returned, this time spreading to her bones, and she died and was loved again.

Those expecting that this book would unveil Mrs. Edwards’s feelings about her husband’s affair, about his mistress Rielle Hunter, or about the love child that they had together (the discovery of whom was the immediate cause of Mrs. Edwards’ separation from her husband) will be disappointed.  The issue is addressed only obliquely. Resilience is not the sensationalistic book that the public, and perhaps her publishers, had hoped for. Mrs. Edwards is remarkably taciturn about any scandals.  But for those that want to know what made Mrs. Edwards persevere in her darkest days, this might begin to answer those questions.

Even though her husband’s affair must have been her most public humiliation, it wasn’t the worst to have happened to her, if Mrs. Edwards’ words are to be believed.  The event that she continually returned to in her writing, the one that seemed to define her life, was that of her son Wade’s death.  He was sixteen when the car that he was driving flipped, killing him.  After that, there was her father’s debilitating stroke and later his death, and her cancer, in remission until she found out that it had spread, incurably.

This book is called Resilience because it is about just that, both the author’s resilience and that of assorted other people that she came across in her life: grieving parents that she met online after Wade’s death, breast cancer survivors from pink ribbon events, even an aspiring geisha disfigured in Hiroshima that young Elizabeth knew as a child of the military living in Japan.  In an often repeated quote, Mrs. Edwards once said, “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before.  You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”  This book recounts Mrs. Edwards’ constant attempts to do just that throughout her life.