Making Our Mark: Business Beyond Barriers

Obtaining Enlightened Power

By Melissa Johnson

Have you ever experienced the frustration of hitting a major roadblock on your way to an important destination? I recall being stuck in traffic on many occasions: the only real solution was to find an alternate route.

As women in business, barriers and roadblocks come with the territory, even today. But true pioneers have managed to find ways to turn obstacles into opportunity.

In honor of Black History Month, I recently attended the “Eunice Johnson’s Couture Fashions” Exhibit at Macy’s. Mrs. Eunice Johnson is the late wife of Mr. John Johnson, an entrepreneur, publisher of Ebony Magazine, and the first African American to appear on the Forbes 400 list. 

Not only was Mrs. Johnson the wife of Mr. John Johnson, she was an entrepreneur in her own right, pioneering the path for African American women in fashion with the Ebony Fashion Fair, the world’s largest traveling fashion show. In partnership with her husband, she turned the obstacle of women of color being prohibited on fashion runways to an opportunity to create a long-standing event experience that has touched generations. 

Fast forward to 2011, and many would say that African Americans and women of color have progressed passed many of the stumbling blocks from previous generations.  Yes, entrepreneurship for African American women and women of color is on the rise, but there are still challenges.

In fact, the SBA’s Office of Advocacy reported in 2009 that businesses owned by African-Americans increased significantly over the most recent period for which Census data is available. Revenues from Black-owned businesses have now reached more than $100 billion annually, Marketplace Public Radio announced in January 2009.

Although we have made leaps and bounds, it was only in 2009 that Xerox announced the first African American female CEO for a Fortune 500 company, Ms. Ursula Burns.  Right now, there are still great disparities in capital, education and even opportunity for many women in business.

As an entrepreneur passionate about human potential, I realize that the power to make your mark takes courage, perseverance and tons of creativity.  

We must acknowledge the facts, but we also have to face a more important truth. No matter your race or gender, your greatest competitive advantage is the discovery of your own authentic identity. Unlocking this mark creates a world of opportunity that can transform barriers and boundaries.

I embrace being an African American female entrepreneur. Yet, I see my mark as global, boundless and timeless. I believe our biggest challenge today is also our greatest opportunity.  We have the power and choice to embrace our path and create the future we want. As we commit to the work we will find our place to shine and make our mark.

Melissa Dawn Johnson is president of Velvet Suite Marketing Consulting Group, a brand management firm. She is a contributor to CNN and author of the book, Brand Me. Make Your Mark: Turn Passion into Profit.


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