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Inspiration from Madam C.J. Walker

Estimated Lesson Time: 2 minutes

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, social activist, and one of America’s first self-made woman millionaires.

Success is not something into which you are ever born. While some people are born into families and situations giving them advantages, Madam C.J. Walker was not one of those people. As a daughter of former slaves, orphaned at age seven, living in a time when racial equality was unheard of, Walker survived by working in the cotton fields.

Success is not only for the well-educated. Because of her impoverished background, Walker had only a limited formal education.

Success is knowing that it is never too late to pursue greatness. For eighteen years, from 1887-1905, Walker supported herself and her daughter by working as a washerwoman.

Success begins with perceiving the world in a positive light—a perception with hope and opportunity. Friendships with other black women who were members of St. Paul A.M.E. Church and the National Association of Colored Women exposed Walker to a new way of viewing the world.

Success can be a result of acting on a crisis. At age 37, Walker found herself facing baldness due to poor diet—a common problem in those days among Black women. She experimented with many homemade remedies and store-bought products, none of which produced a satisfactory result. She “tinkered” with some existing solutions until she found something that worked and decided to market it.

Success is minimizing risk and maximizing gain. As a poor minority in the early 20th century, Walker was in an excellent position for success by having nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Success is knowing the importance of education. When Walker was still working as washerwoman, making about $1.50 per day, she managed to save enough money to educate her daughter. To ensure her success, Walker surrounded herself with educated people in her business and employed tutors to help her with her own education.

Success is knowing your market. Traditional marketing at the time consisted mostly of advertising. However, Walker knew that the majority of her target market, Black women, were not able to read. As a result, she began a highly successful face-to-face network marketing campaign, which was unique at the time.

Success is giving others hope. At a time when most Black women were just menial laborers, Walker offered hope and opportunity by creating a professional salesforce of Black women, some of whom made hundreds of dollars per day.

[Sources: http://www.madamecjwalker.com, http://www.princeton.edu, Investor’s Business Daily - 1998]

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    Bo Bennett, PhD

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