Name a rich and successful black woman. Oprah Winfrey probably comes to mind first for a billion reasons. Did you know that although she was the first black female billionaire, Oprah was not the first black female millionaire in US history? Madame CJ Walker claims this title.
His commitment to building the black community through entrepreneurship, employment and philanthropy provides an example of the free enterprise system and private giving at work – a necessary reminder in light of today’s anti-capitalist social justice movement. hui.
Before Oprah, Beyonce, Rihanna or even BET co-founder Sheila Johnson, there was Sarah Breedlove (later known as Madame CJ Walker). Sarah was born in 1867 to former slaves and joined his family picking cotton as a sharecropper on the Louisiana plantation where his parents had been enslaved.
Poverty and lack of access to education marked his childhood. Sarah was orphaned and married at the age of 14 in hopes of a better life that did not materialize. She became a young mother, lost her first husband and was abandoned by her second husband before the age of 30.
Sarah’s ticket out of poverty began with her own hair loss. She eventually left a grueling, skinny laundry job after using a straightening product that gave her hair back. She became the equivalent of a brand ambassador for this product, supplementing her laundry income as a sales agent.
Sarah moved from the Midwest to Colorado and started his own hair care business in 1905 to meet the growing demand from the rising class of economically stable blacks. Taking the name of her third husband, she renamed herself Madame CJ Walker and her business took off.
If there had ever been a champion for women, and black women in particular, at a time when they faced gender oppression and brutal racial discrimination, it was Walker. In less than a decade, she’s built a focused, black-featured and operated hair care empire. Deprived of bank loans, Walker has self-financed a state-of-the-art factory.
She opened salons to help women start businesses, founded a network of beauty schools to train tens of thousands of people in her products and techniques, advertised her products in black newspapers through the country (sometimes keeping them afloat) and employed over 20,000 sales agents.
Like her mentionned in 1914, “I am not just satisfied with making money for myself. I strive to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race. “
Walker also enabled women to gain economic independence through entrepreneurship. His announcements promoted the opportunities offered by his company: “Open your own store; ensure prosperity and freedom. Many women of all ages faced with the problem of making a living have mastered the Walker system. “
Madam CJ Walker released many black women from prison for low-paid, menial work and offered certified training opportunities despite legal restrictions on black education.
Walker was not only concerned with the economic empowerment of black women. She sought to uplift the black community through philanthropy.
Before even accumulating wealth, Walker supported her local church, which came to her aid as a single mother. However, his fortune allowed Walker to expand his gifts and extend them beyond the church framework to institutions serving black people in the Midwest and South.
She funded historically black educational institutions, donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, a teacher training school for black students, and what would later become Bethune-Cookman University in Florida.
Walker built homes using black labor and built workforce development and social service institutions – from a retirement facility for older African-American women to the YMCA of Indianapolis . She has also supported African-American artists and musicians, hoping to raise their national profile.
Walker was also active in public policy philanthropy, donating a considerable sum of $ 5,000 at the time to the NAACP’s anti-lynching efforts. She would also lend her voice to national efforts ranging from temperance and suffrage for women to civil rights and equality for blacks.
His philanthropy was even felt through the gift baskets with food for the poor that filled his company’s office during the holidays. She noted, “I am not and have never been ‘tight’ because anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a liberal-hearted woman.
This “liberal” philosophy continued even after the end of her life with a $ 100,000 trust to support many causes, including some to which she had previously donated.
Although Ms. CJ Walker’s philanthropy stands out today, she has practiced a tradition of common giving within the black community. the gospel and autonomy has gone hand in hand in uplifting black people throughout American history. The black church has served the spiritual needs of black souls and the economic, educational and social needs of their hands, minds, and hearts.
Today, as some call for increased government funding to address past discrimination, we must not forget that during the darkest times in our history, people like Ms. CJ Walker created opportunities for themselves – themselves and for others while taking care of the less able in society.
Economic freedom and philanthropy are still as powerful today as they were in the days of Mrs. CJ Walker. Walker is encouraging words rings true: “I had to earn my living and my own opportunity!” But I did! That’s why I want to say to every black woman out there, don’t sit back and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.