Black History Month, observed across the United States and Canada in February, and the United Kingdom in October, is a celebration of incredible contributions from African Americans. African American men and women alike had to struggle to participate in business, despite their many talents. When we consider the terrible legacy of slavery, the travesty of the Jim Crow era, and the continuing struggle for women's rights, it is striking to note that even before the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a number of black women became successful businesswomen. I am proud to say that African American women have played a significant role in history that is often times overlooked, yet the impact is beyond remarkable, it is our history.
The earliest African American female entrepreneurs based their businesses around domestic services such as sewing, cooking or cleaning. In time, the possibilities grew to encompass sales of health and beauty aids, investment in real estate, ownership of restaurants and boarding houses, the foundation of banks and other financial institutions, and a host of other endeavors. One such example is Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) who was a member of the Independent Order of St. Luke, an organization founded by a former slave dedicated to the uplifting of African Americans. After becoming leader of the Order, Walker revitalized the financial institution and became the first female bank president in the United States. Walker went on to found other businesses and advocate tirelessly for black rights and women's suffrage throughout her life.
Today, African American women are CEOs of multimillion dollar corporations, controlling companies that pioneer new exciting technologies, and commanding media empires whose influence spans the globe. These women have reached the heights of success in the business world through hard work, focus, a willingness to innovate and embrace change, and a determination not to be intimidated by the obstacles in their path.
As we celebrate Black History, I encourage everyone to pause to acknowledge parents, children, grand-parents, extended family members and friends that have supported you along the way. Let this not be a month to just observe our history, but rather make this the month that You Make History by impacting someone's life with the gifts and talents you possess. Be not defined by title, position, paycheck or perception. Be defined by YOU!