In the honor of Black History Month 2021, we have compiled a list of the four most notable and successful women of color entrepreneurs. When we read history books or articles about success stories, we rarely come across an article about the accomplishments of women of color entrepreneurs who have contributed towards paving the way so women like me can follow our dreams, and launch our own businesses without facing discrimination like our ancestors did a hundred years ago.
Many great African American women have substantially contributed to the success of the nation’s economy. A recent report shows that women of color operate 1.3 million businesses, and the annual revenue generated by them is approximately $44.9 Billion.
However, the success attained by African American women is not just in the 21st century. Many women from the past had worked unyieldingly against the arduous gender pay gap, unemployment, and lack of career development in their respective fields of work due to racist and sexist stereotypes prevalent in society in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In celebration of Black History Month 2021, we have compiled a list of the four most influential women of color entrepreneurs whom every young girl or aspiring entrepreneur should know about.
Clara Brown (c. 1800–1885) – Philanthropist, Entrepreneur, and Humanitarian
“Perhaps there is a language which is not made of words and everyone in the world understands it.” – Clara Brown
Clara Brown – Early Life
Clara Brown is amongst the most inspiring women of color entrepreneurs celebrated every year on Black History Month. Clara was born as a slave and soon after her birth, both she and her mother were sold off to a Virginian tobacco farmer, Ambrose Smith. Brown’s exceptional story of courage, resilience, and bravery is truly an inspiration for all the young girls who feel like they don’t belong anywhere in this world. Despite being an ex-slave to an owner in Kentucky, Brown established a successful laundry business in the late 1850s.
After each of her family members, including her four children, were sold off to different owners, Brown received her freedom at the age of 56 and she was finally allowed to leave the state as per the law.
Clara Brown’s Business Establishment During the Gold Rush
Clara Brown established her laundry business during the American Gold Rush and immediately attained success and gained popularity within the community. Clara Brown’s story is that of courage and resilience. Working as a cleaner and a cook for the miners during the Colorado Gold rush, she saved extra money from the gold dust that came out from the pockets of the miners and denied herself of any worldly luxuries by working for many hours a day.
Using her home as a classroom and being a founding member of the first Sunday schools, Clara Brown also funded the St. James Methodist Church’s construction with the earnings she had saved. Clara Brown was extensively accommodating and generous towards the people of her community. In Central City, Clara Brown’s home served to the minority communities as a hotel, hospital, and church. People from all across the community came to her for treatments as she was an exceptional nurse, with a kind soul and a cooperative nature. Because of her title as a midwife, pregnant women came to her for delivering their babies.
After substantially expanding her laundry business, Brown invested her savings in various mines, and real estate. She also reportedly owned various houses in Central City, numerous buildings in Denver, and some mines in Idaho Springs, Georgetown, and Boulder. In 1882, Clara Brown reunited with her daughter Eliza Jane and until Brown’s death, the two women resided together in Denver.
Honoring Clara Brown’s Role in the African American Society
For her role in contributing to Colorado’s early history and in the Colorado Gold Rush, Clara Brown was elected as the first African American and the first female member of the Society of Colorado Pioneers in 1885.
On October 26th, 1885, Clara Brown passed away in her sleep. She was buried with honors by the Society of Colorado Pioneers. Clara Brown’s story is indeed a source of inspiration for all the women of color entrepreneurs who dare to dream big. Clara Brown was a woman of resilience, courage, and bravery. She paved the way for success so that the women of today can pursue their dreams without hesitation. This black history month 2021, we are grateful for Clara Brown and many women of color entrepreneurs, who worked hard, so women like me could dream big, and pursue our goals.
Maggie Lena Walker (1864–1934) – First Woman to own a Bank in the United States
“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.” – Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker – Early Life
Being born as a child of enslaved parents, Maggie Lena Walker was brought up in the Richmond city of Virginia. In a famous hotel in Richmond, Walker’s father worked as a butler and her mother worked as a waitress. After graduating from a local school in Richmond, Maggie Lena Walker began her career as a teacher. After the death of her father, she began supporting her mother financially in every way possible. Walker first worked at an African American benevolent organization at the age of 14, which was a platform aimed at helping the elderly and sick individuals of Richmond, and working within this organization, she held many high-ranked positions. The organization’s newspaper, St. Luke Herald was first published in 1902. The African Americans in Richmond were encouraged by Walker through the St. Luke Herald newspaper to utilize their economic power by establishing institutions of their own.
Maggie Lena Walker – Self Made Woman of Color Entrepreneur
Maggie Lena Walker is a self-made entrepreneur, and she gained popularity by being one of the first leaders of business in the U.S, and Walker also gained immense social prominence and praise when she became the first woman in the United States to own a bank. Walker possessed a passion and a vision, to make the lives better of African Americans in the U.S, and to create more opportunities for the communities who were often underrepresented or underappreciated.
Maggie Lena Walker – Inspiring African American Women Globally
In the later years of her life, Walker became paralyzed and was soon shifted to a wheelchair. This accident made her a hero and a true inspiration in the eyes of disabled individuals globally. Maggie Lena Walker had also served as the first bank president of St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. Despite being limited in movement, she was a leader in the Richmond African American Community. Serving much of her life as a board member of the Virginia Industrial School for Girls, Walker fought strenuously for women’s rights. From humble beginnings, she made such an immense difference in the lives of women of color entrepreneurs globally.
Sheila Johnson (1949 – Present) – First African American Billionaire, CEO of Salamander Hotel and Resorts, and Co-Founder of BET
“It’s important that women support women. It gives me a great sense of well-being to know that I can make a difference in people’s lives.” – Sheila Johnson
Shiela Johnson – Early Life
Sheila Johnson was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania on 25th January 1949. Her father was a neurosurgeon at the Veterans Administration. Whereas her mother was an accountant. Both her parents were exceptional violinists. Sheila had the same love for music and went on to become a concertmaster of the Illinois All-State Choir when she was in high school. Her love for music granted her a full scholarship to the University of Illinois and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music performance and education in 1971. Both Sheila and her husband, John Malone received an investment worth $500,000 to initiate a TV network of their own.
Shiela Johnson – Career Development in the Entertainment Industry
In 1979, they established Black Entertainment Television (BET). After selling off Black Entertainment Television for $3Billion in 2000, Sheila Johnson became amongst the wealthiest African-Americans in the U.S. In 2005, Sheila Johnson found a management and hospitality company named Salamander Hospitality. This company owns numerous properties nationally such as the Reunion Resort in Florida, the Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Florida, and The Salamander Resort & Spa in Virginia.
Other than being a Global Ambassador for CARE, which is a humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, Johnson also possesses numerous holdings in the three professional sports teams; the Washington Capitals in the NHL, the Washington Wizards in the NBA, and the Washington Mystics WNBA franchise making her the first woman of color entrepreneur to hold ownership to professional sports teams of such a high-ranking. Other than being an arduous entrepreneur, Sheila Johnson has also produced numerous documentaries such as “The Other City (2010)” and “A Powerful Noise (2008)”
In 2007, Sheila Johnson managed to raise over $8 million dollars through the “I Am Powerful Challenge.” And in the same year, she was honored for her contributions to the community as one of “Virginia’s Women in History.”
Shiela Johnson – First Billionaire Woman of Color Entrepreneur
Sheila Johnson was the very first African-American woman to be included in the 2000 Billionaire List of Forbes. At Present, her net worth is estimated to be approximately $700M. Sheila Johnson is a perfect example of a woman who follows her passions, is bound to succeed. Her love for music led her to launch her own media platform, then she went on to become the very first billionaire woman of color entrepreneur.
Janice Bryant Howroyd (1952 – Present) – Educator, Entrepreneur, Author, Mentor
“Whatever you do in life, do enough to bless someone besides yourself.” – Janice Bryant Howroyd
Janice Bryant Howroyd – Early Life
Born and brought up in the city of Tarboro, North Carolina, Janice Bryant Howroyd was the fourth sister of her eleven siblings. Howroyd attained her entrepreneurship skills from her grandparents, who owned a barbeque restaurant at the place of their homes. Janice Bryant Howroyd learned a lot of entrepreneur skills from her parents. Howroyd’s mother was an African American woman. Whereas her father had an ancestry of Ireland and Cherokee. Janice Bryant Howroyd was the first African American girl in her city’s first segregated school. In an interview with Black Enterprise by writer Tamara E. Holmes, Howroyd recalls “On the first day of class, I listened to my teacher explain why Africans were so well suited to slavery and how we’d be much poorer as a society if we went any further with this affirmative action.”
Janice Bryant Howroyd – One of the First Woman of Color Entrepreneur
No one would have predicted how Janice Bryant Howroyd would actually end up being the first woman of color entrepreneur to own a multi-millionaire company. One of the companies she owns, the Act-1 Group, supplies short-term staffing, services of HR, consulting, along with holding a status of Minority ownership, it is an international Talent and Talent Technology enterprise and possesses various divisions with 2,600 employees and 17,000 clients globally in over 19 countries. Other than providing workforce solutions, Act-1 is also a multi-millionaire company in the U.S. However, Howroyd’s life had been far from easy.
In 1978, Howroyd launched her business from $1,500, a phone, a fax machine, and a $900 loan from her mother. Along with her family, Howroyd now possesses various properties such as residences, and commercial rental properties. Janice Bryant Howroyd released her book “Acting Up” in 2019. Her book was extensively informational and consisted of important advice on how Howroyd conquered the business world. The story of Janice Bryant Howard is a true epitome of resilience and strength. A teen who faced discrimination in an academic setting utilized her skills for the betterment of her community and to inspire many.
We rarely hear about the accomplishments of women of color entrepreneurs. Despite living in the 21st century, people of color are still discriminated against and are often underrepresented in their respective fields of work. However, the aforementioned women of color entrepreneurs are an example, that no matter how hard life may seem, no matter how different you might be from others, if you possess the passion and motivation to make a difference, you can succeed.
As Oprah Winfrey once said, “What I know is, is that if you do work that you love, and the work fulfills you, the rest will come.” The aforementioned women were not extraordinary nor were they superheroes. They were women who loved what they did, and they utilized their talents and skills for the betterment of their communities. They used their God-given gifts to help fight against the sexist and racist society. They might be the first women of color entrepreneurs to bring a change in the lives of African American Women in the U.S, but they will definitely not be the last.