Local photographer Nicole Felton, far left, took pictures of Black women (depicted in center image) during her “Queen” photography sessions. Portia Powell, far right, Huntington vice president – program manager. (Photo credit: Nicole Felton, Nicole Denise Photography, and Huntington)
She is bold, vibrant, persevering and always ready to slay.
The Black businesswoman – you already know her name — shows up day in and day out in Detroit and across the nation.
The country is taking notice, too, as 17 percent of Black women are in the process of starting or running new businesses, according to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), which states that a Black woman is more likely to start a business than a white man.
Statistics back up that fact because in comparison to the 17 percent of Black women with nascent businesses, only 15 percent of white men (and 10 percent of white women) are doing the same.
HBR adds, however, that despite getting ahead, just three percent of Black women are “running mature businesses.”
Regardless of the timeline of how long a Black woman has opened or operated her business, she is celebrated for her worth and work.
With American Business Women’s Day recognized on Wednesday, September 22, the Michigan Chronicle is highlighting several local Black businesswomen including their challenges and triumphs.
“My Mother Instilled in Me, ‘You Can Do Whatever You Want to Do’”
Ronda Morrison, 58, is the owner of House of Morrison Shoe Repair and Leather Care in Detroit (on the Avenue of Fashion at their current location since 1972) has seen her fair share of the family business, which has been in existence since 1954.
“I started working with my dad every day in 1983, I was 22,” she said, adding that she took over the family business in 1991.
Morrison, is the project coordinator at the company ensuring repairs and services are performed in a timely manner while wearing multiple hats – said that she’s seen it all.
“Every Black woman probably had to come through quite a few struggles if they made it in any form of self-employment,” Morrison said, adding that her father showed her the ropes and she learned building and backroom operations, which typically were reserved for men.
Morrison, whose mother was an executive at Blue Cross Blue Shield in the 1970s, said that her mother and father instilled in her an inspirational work ethic.
“My mother was the one that instilled in me you can do whatever you want to do, and my father instilled in me the wherewithal to sort through many things that required me to stay in business,” Morrison said, adding that Black women are flourishing in business, especially locally. “I am loving the Avenue of Fashion … and on our block [I am] afforded the privilege to mentor and give advice to … so many of these Black women.”
“For so Long We Were Told What We Could Do”
Portia Powell, Huntington vice president – program manager for the Lift Local Business program and also the owner-operator of Eastside’s Good Vibes Lounge, told the Michigan Chronicle that she is in a unique space professionally where she navigates corporate America and being an entrepreneur.
“I have two different perspectives and I’ve done both,” Powell said, adding that her mother was a single mother, an orphan, who had her at 15 years old and inspired her to become the businesswoman she is. “[I] went through that process with her as she was learning — she continued to push those things into me.”
Powell, 37, added that her banking career started with her mother and aunt (who happened to be a banker) motivating her along the way and instilling in her the importance of financial literacy.
“My aunt who had been a banker her entire life had only been exposed to a certain perspective,” she said, adding that when she got to banking, she realized there were “more avenues” available that her aunt couldn’t access, which Powell reached. “My aunt, who recently passed away, I attribute most of my career to her. She became … proud of what I became.”
Powell added that, historically and for so long, Black women have been told what careers they could have. Around the mid-20th century, jobs for Black women (and Black men) were primarily reserved for working in the service industry such as laundry attendants, servants, butlers and chauffeurs in private homes, according to an article, African American Occupations in the 1900s, based on information from a 1900 United States Census.
Powell said that she has overcome, like the women before her, and she is thriving today in her 21st-century role.
In 2013, while working at a Downriver credit union as a manager, she overheard a white man ask her employee why they couldn’t hire someone who looked like them. She said that for so long she had to prove herself and today she knows her work, and worth speaks for itself.
“What I am finding as a Black woman we have to constantly prove ourselves — why we are in the seats and positions [we are in],” she said, adding that Black women (if you didn’t know) are more than equal for the roles they are in today. “We are …running the world — organizations.”
In that same vein, she added that Black women have to continue to rise up and accept the challenge that they can do more and go further than their ancestors’ dreams.
“We do have to do the work,” she said of credentialing oneself and working hard. “Everybody has to.”
Black Women Are the Superpower
Nicole Felton, a local photographer, and entrepreneur, who runs Nicole Denise Photography, has been running her photography business in metro Detroit since 2015.
She told the Michigan Chronicle that in her profession, she likes to capture stories using pictures and she recently did a photo series of Black women called “Queen.”
“It just showcases the Black woman’s beauty, freedom of sexuality – everything beautiful,” the 43-year-old said, adding that she recently started making pillows with encouraging sayings on them, which came from her “Queen” series.
“It is important for Black women to be able to showcase their products [and work],” she said. “Black women are just the superpower to me – we have this uniqueness to us. We’re able to deliver just the full package of everything.”
Contact Staff Writer Sherri Kolade with story ideas at email@example.com.