The accomplishments of Black Americans push me to do and be my best every day. They become even more of an imperative as I consider those accomplishments during Black History Month. African-Americans have contributed so much to the developed world as we know it, and so many have influenced who I am as a professional and biracial woman. One person that has had an indelible impact on me, both personally and professionally, is Madam C.J. Walker. Her dedication to her business and personal development, despite the many setbacks she faced, embodies all I hope to be as a driven woman and entrepreneur.
A Persevering Woman
From the first moments of researching and getting to know Madam Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, I admired her resilience. Though she was the first of her siblings (and parents) to be born free, she was orphaned at age seven. She went to live with her older sister but ran away because of her abusive brother-in-law. Walker married at age 14 and was a widowed mother by the age of 20. Even as she matured and moved on in life, she started her business with $1.05 to her name. I simply cannot imagine.
Throughout her life, Madam Walker exemplified strength and determination. And hers was no ordinary strength. To rise from life’s ashes and circumstances as a black woman in America during the late 1800s was more than a notion. This era saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and a social push to demean black Americans as second class citizens. Yet, Walker remained focused on providing a better life for her daughter and herself. I think about her life’s trajectory, and I recognize so much of her drive in me.
Our experiences are very different, but I realize that life will deal all of us hands that we may not feel equipped to play. I know I felt that way. Nevertheless, it’s important to realize we all have an inner strength deep inside of us that we can channel. It is bigger than the circumstances that surround us. What’s more, it allows us to see beyond our present and strive for our future. That “something” within us can even help us use our negative circumstances for our good, which Madam Walker absolutely did.
The “Better Business” Woman
Madam C.J. Walker is best known for her hair care products that made her the first self-made female millionaire in America. She got the idea after dealing with a scalp disorder herself (and practically losing all of her hair). By creating a process that included scalp preparation, hair pomades (that she made) and hot iron combs, Madam Walker’s products and methods revolutionized the Black hair care industry.
But she didn’t stop there. Madam Walker began her business selling her products herself. As the business grew, she switched her distribution plan and began employing “Walker Agents.” These agents were sales associates and beauticians who sold her products. They also promoted her philosophy of “cleanliness and loveliness” to Walker’s patrons as a means of advancing Black Americans’ social status.
And she didn’t stop there! Madam Walker became a serious social activist and philanthropist. She created educational scholarships for African-American students and created clubs and organizations for her agents. Further, Madam Walker made significant donations to the NAACP, various homes for the elderly, and many more organizations that positively impacted the lives of Black Americans.
If you’ve been following my career, it will be EVIDENT why Madam C.J. Walker is one of my heroes. She saw a need and created a solution to help herself and generations of women to come after her. And, I love that she was a woman who gave of herself and her resources whenever she could. Madam Walker even donated two-thirds of her estate to charity after she passed away. Her heart was purely one of a philanthropist and entrepreneur, and my drive parallels those ideals to a tee. I cherish her life and story, and I hope to emulate it throughout my journey.
There’s so much more to learn about Madam C.J. Walker. I encourage you to watch Self-Made, the movie made about her life, to discover more about this amazing woman, entrepreneur and icon of Black History. You won’t be disappointed.