As we near the end of Women’s History Month, I wanted to recognize the legacy and character of black women entrepreneurs.
In today’s society, women-owned businesses are on the rise and changing the world. According to the 2018 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report (commissioned by American Express), from 2007-2018 “the number of women-owned businesses surged [by] 58 percent,” but firms owned by black women grew by an impressive 164 percent; representing “the highest rate of growth in the number of firms between 2017 and 2018 of any group.”
Now that’s what I call “Black Girl Magic.”
Being an emerging entrepreneur myself, I know that I stand on the shoulders of women like Mary Ellen Pleasant, Bridget “Biddy” Mason and Madame C. J. Walker. Through the terrible legacy of slavery, these fearless and enterprising women emerged through their trauma to become millionaires; basing the foundation of their businesses around domestic services, beauty and real estate investment.
As a young black girl, I grew up learning about the lives and legacies of these women in my history books and of course, during Black History Month. But as an adult woman, and now business owner, I see them differently. Other than their extraordinary lives and success as entrepreneurs, I can now recognize the depth of their character and moral compass as black women.
When I look at the success of black women entrepreneurs throughout history, I now look beyond their financial rewards and focus more on their character, beliefs and personal values. And what I’ve grown to recognize is that the character and spiritual foundation that many black women entrepreneurs possess are described in the Bible. More specifically, Proverbs 31: 10-31, “The Virtuous Woman.”
Like most, I was raised to believe that “The Virtuous Woman” was “God’s ideal woman,” and frankly a “domestic goddess.” She cooked, she cleaned and took care of the kids — basically, a housewife of noble character.
But when I re-read that verse as an adult woman, I saw her from a different lens and from a different perspective. Now I don’t profess to be a biblical scholar, but when I re-read God’s description of His “ideal woman,” she was not a “domestic goddess” to me at all. In fact, she was an entrepreneur.
By no means do I believe that being a housewife is not an honorable or valuable profession, but if “The Virtuous Woman” is who God created women to be, then her works went well beyond her ability to cook, clean and take care of her family.
Yes, she was a wife and mother whose “children will call her blessed; her husband also” (Prov. 31:28). But the Bible also says that she had help running her household. She got up “at the crack of dawn” to prepare breakfast for her family before she went to “work,” but also gave “a portion to her maidens” (Prov. 31:15).
Her business was in textiles. During the day, she would “seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands” (Prov. 31:13). When she would find materials that she liked, she would go home, spend some time with the family, and then stay up late working.
The Bible says, when “she perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night. She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.” (Prov. 31: 18-19). Once she finished making her “fine linen,” she sold it and “delivereth girdles unto the merchant” (Prov. 31:24).
In addition to having a textile business, “The Virtuous Woman” was also a real estate investor and farmer.
“She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard” (Prov. 31:16). And like many good business owners, she spent her money wisely and was sometimes frugal; even going to the next town to get a good deal, or discount. “She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar” (Prov. 31:14).
While “The Virtuous Woman” is a successful entrepreneur and real estate mogul, with exceptional financial literacy skills, the core of who she is as a woman lies simply in her name, her virtues. As a black woman entrepreneur, when I now read about “The Virtuous Woman,” she is a woman of tremendous faith who trusts in the success of her God-given talents, and not in her physical appearance. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is passing: but a woman, who fears the Lord, shall be praised” (Prov. 31:30).
She is a woman who is nurturing, giving and has a strong belief in service; often giving of herself unconditionally for the betterment of her people, family and community. “She extends her hand to the poor. Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy” (Prov. 31:20).
But overall, “The Virtuous Woman” understood that her inner beauty was far more valuable to a man, and God, than any amount of money or material possessions. “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (Prov. 31:10).
In this age of social media, selfies, reality TV and YouTube stars, I truly believe we need to begin to mentor the next generation of young black women entrepreneurs from the inside out. And if our young girls grow to understand the true value of good moral character and inner beauty, then the life and entrepreneurial spirit of “The Virtuous Woman” will live on for generations to come.
Starlett Quarles is a Gen X Advocate, public speaker and host of the internet TV Talk Show, “The Dialogue with Starlett Quarles.” For more, please visit www.TheDialogueLA.com.