Since 1926, February has been designated as a month to honor African Americans and their contributions to U.S. culture and history. Originally started as Negro History Week by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, it became a month-long celebration of excellence in 1976. While the shortest month of the year, February was strategically chosen to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, two men widely credited for their impact on the Black population. Four other notable moments in Black History occurred in February:
- February 23, 1868: E. B. DuBois, important civil rights leader and co-founder of the NAACP, was born.
- February 3, 1870: The 15th Amendment was passed, granting black citizens the right to vote.
- February 25, 1870: The first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels (1822-1901), took his oath of office.
- February 12, 1909: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) was founded by a group of concerned black and white citizens in New York City. (Source: Infoplease.com)
In honor of Black History Month, we present the following people who took the world of business by storm and found success on their own terms:
- The Past: Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was an entrepreneur, civil rights activist, and philanthropist who specialized in hair products specially made for African American hair. After a scalp ailment caused her to lose most of her hair, she began experimenting with store-bought and homemade products to try to remedy the problem. After working briefly for another Black female entrepreneur, Annie Malone, Madam C.J. Walker founded her own hair company. She began selling her scalp conditioning and healing formula, Wonderful Hair Grower, door to door throughout the South and Southeast areas of the U.S. She also traveled internationally to promote and expand her business. Madam C.J. Walker employed a number of sales and marketing strategies to push her products: providing product demonstrations in churches and lodges, establishing a school to train her sales agents, the Walker hair culturists, and building her own factory for manufacturing the products. Her hardworking group of agents were organized into the Madam C.J. Walker Hair Culturists Union of America and held a convention in Philadelphia in 1917, where she praised them for their professional successes and encouraged them to become involved politically in social issues. Madam C.J. Walker was known to donate to causes for justice and the community such as the construction of a “colored” YMCA in Indianapolis and the NAACP’s anti-lynching movement. Through her hard work, perseverance, and honest business dealings, Madam C.J. Walker established herself as the pioneer of the modern Black hair-care and cosmetics industry and became one of the first self-made American women millionaires. (Source: madamcjwalker.com)
- The Present: Entrepreneur, Shark, Brand Consultant, Speaker, Author: these are a few of the titles worn by the “People’s Shark”, Daymond John. John has been in the business of doing business since the first grade, where he sold customized pencils to his classmates. Over the years, John has tried his hand at various ventures, from providing transportation to sewing hats. One of his most notable ventures was the creation of the FUBU (For Us, By Us) fashion line in 1989. With the support of his mother and friends, John noted that he was able to turn a $40 budget into a $6B fashion game-changer. John uses the experience of his successes and failures to provide valuable lessons to aspiring entrepreneurs, reaching them through his role on ABC’s Shark Tank, in worldwide speaking engagements and via his books (The Power of Broke and Rise and Grind). His consulting firm, The Shark Group, provides advice and experience on branding, licensing, social media, marketing and a host of other topics to top Fortune 500 companies as well as up and coming companies throughout the world. In 2013 Daymond John was appointed as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship by President Barack Obama. This position focused on promoting the power and importance of entrepreneurship on a global scale. For more information on Daymond John and his activities, visit https://daymondjohn.com/.
- The Future: At just five years old, Asia Newson became Detroit’s youngest entrepreneur when she created Super Business Girl. Using the skills she learned from her father, Asia makes and sells candles and merchandise locally in Detroit and via her website. With scents such as Sweet Mango, Cotton Candy, and her Signature Super Business Girl Candle, Asia’s “world’s best candles” have gained a following. Now fourteen years old, she has earned accolades such as being named to the Grio’s Top 100 list. She has also appeared on several television programs: the Ellen Degeneres Show, America’s Got Talent, MSNBC, 20/20 ABC News, NPR, etc. And the young entrepreneur is not keeping all of her business know-how to herself: Asia offers “How to be a YOUTHpreneur” workshops where she teaches students in grades four through twelve about entrepreneurship, merchandising, innovation and candle making. As she noted during her 2014 TED Talk, "I teach young people like myself how to make their own money and buy the things they really need in their life because they won't have to ask their parents for anything if they do the same thing that I do." For more information or to order candles, visit Asia’s website, http://www.superbusinessgirl.com/.
Each of the three entrepreneurs highlighted above reminds us that there are many ways and opportunities to be successful if one is willing to do the work. We encourage you to use this month to learn about other inspiring African Americans in your industry. Many cities, libraries, museums and organizations throughout the country are hosting events to celebrate Black History Month t share the moments and the figures who made them happen. Information for these events can be found on local city websites, social media pages, billboards, and the newspaper. If possible, take a moment to participate in an event near you because, at the end of the day, Black History is OUR history.