Black Enterprise — February 2011
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They Made History—And So Can You

We have a saying at my company: At black enterprise, every month is Black History Month. That’s because our Wealth for Life mission calls for us to chronicle African American progress and celebrate black achievement year-round, not just during the month of February.

However, that doesn’t mean we don’t take Black History Month seriously, particularly when it comes to recognizing outstanding entrepreneurs and business leaders. Unfortunately, when celebrating the contributions of black people to our nation and the world, our legacy as business achievers too often takes a back seat to our accomplishments as athletes, civil rights activists, political leaders, and entertainers. To the casual observer, it would be easy to believe that such a legacy does not exist. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our rich history of achievement did not begin with Russell Simmons and Oprah Winfrey.It began long before the founding of black enterprise more than 40 years ago. We all need to know about the thriving black business districts that evolved in segregated communities across America, including Tulsa, Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street”—which was utterly destroyed by racial violence in 1921. We need to know about black haircare products pioneer Madame C.J. Walker, first black female bank president Maggie Lena Walker, and Birmingham millionaire Arthur G. Gaston Jr., who built business and financial institutions long before terms such as equal opportunity and supplier diversity became part of the lexicon of American business.More recently, we need to know and celebrate the stories of groundbreaking black business leaders such as TLC Beatrice International CEO Reginald F. Lewis and Act-1 Group Founder and CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd. And this is just a small sampling of our rich legacy in business.

Knowing and appreciating our history is about more than celebrating the past for posterity’s sake. We must draw on Black History Month as inspiration for the present and hope for our future. Simply put, once you know how history was made, you can make it yourself, benefiting from the lessons and building on the accomplishments of those who came before you. Standing on the shoulders of giants enables you to lif your sights beyond self-limiting doubts, obstacles, and excuses, to see what’s truly possible for you. This is of critical importance for those of you who will brave new frontiers as entrepreneurs and professionals in 2011.

Knowing and appreciating history is what allows you to see the possible beyond the impossible. It’s the kind of vision it took for Madame Walker to become the wealthiest African American and first female self-made millionaire in 1919. It’s what it took for John H. Johnson to launch Ebony magazine in 1945. And it’s the kind of vision it took for Barack Obama to become President of the United States in 2008. They made history—and so can you.

So take the time to really celebrate Black History Month this year. You can start by checking out daily content at BlackEnterprise.Com, where you’ll learn about luminaries such as the black enterprise “Titans” and other outstanding business achievers. Don’t stop there: sign up for text alerts from Black- and download the black enterprise Wealth for Life iPad app. And of course, continue to read black enterprise magazine. In fact, why not purchase gif subscriptions for others as a way to share and celebrate black achievement?

By truly and proactively embracing our legacy of excellence in business, you’ll come to believe as we do at black enterprise: Every month is Black History Month.