Advancing the Legacy of Madam C.J. Walker

with Ayris T. Scales of the Walker's Legacy Foundation

Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first Black self-made millionaires in America, built an empire that celebrated and empowered Black women by providing them with educational opportunities and jobs.

Ayris T. Scales, CEO and Managing Director of the Walker’s Legacy Foundation, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss how the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker continues to inspire and uplift the economic and entrepreneurial prosperity of multicultural women.

Posted on:

January 30, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Madam C.J. Walker was one of the first Black self-made millionaires in the United States. A pioneer of the modern haircare and cosmetics industry, Walker built an empire that celebrated and empowered Black women by providing them with educational opportunities and jobs during a time when those opportunities were limited. And her legacy is even more relevant today. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tatiana Anderson. Madam C.J. Walker was a visionary. She understood that, if she taught other women how to start a business, their success would lead to generational success. Joining me to share efforts in continuing Walker's legacy in empowering minority women entrepreneurs is Ayris T. Scales, C.E.O. and managing director of Walker's Legacy Foundation. And Ayris, thanks for being here.

Scales: Thank you so much for having me. I cannot wait to talk to you about our commitment to create the next generation of legacy makers.

Anderson: And there certainly is a lot to talk about. And I want to start with this impact study that you did, as it relates to COVID and Black women entrepreneurs. What did you find?

Scales: Well, thank you so much for bringing up our impact study. First and foremost, we are so proud of that report. It was led by, designed by, and administered by women of color and women of color who are entrepreneurs. So, everything that was shared in that report we actually relate to firsthand. So, there were a lot of traditional findings, as it related to women's concerns about access to capital, their concerns around supply-chain disruption. But let me tell you, we could not believe the number of women who raised concerns around the impact of mental health and wellness on their ability to run their business. We also had 90% -- 90% of the 1,000 respondents shared that they were concerned that their doors would be closed by the end of the year. So, we said, "You know what? Not on our watch." So, we are doubling down on our work to support women of color entrepreneurs in new and bolder ways. And we're also making sure that we're infusing mental health and wellness practices into our traditional entrepreneurial programing.

Anderson: And it's not just COVID, which obviously had an impact on on everyone, not just businesses owned by Black women. But we know that Black women entrepreneurs have had historic barriers on top of COVID, like access to capital, lack of technical assistance, fear of applying for loans because of possible rejection. You've got a new initiative, I understand, that's working to help level the playing field. What is it, and what tools does it specifically use to knock down some of these barriers?

Scales: We have a new, bold and ambitious initiative to ensure that 10,000 Black women entrepreneurs are capital-ready by 2025. And we use the term "capital-ready" because there's often a myth that women of color, Black women entrepreneurs, are not bankable. We know that we are bankable, and we want to make sure, however, that women are going after funding, that, when they are going into financial institutions, as they consider ways to continue to increase revenue for their businesses, that they're ready for the capital that they're pursuing. So, we know that, through our efforts, we need to have a collective. We have financial institution partners that we're bringing to the table. We have philanthropic partners that we're bringing to the table. We have amazing corporate partners that we're bringing to the table. And we want to continue to do that. So, we'll be focusing on things such as criteria to apply for grants, understanding if a loan is the right option for you, making sure that you have all of your paperwork in order, that you know the importance of certifications, and how that makes you more feasible to secure contracts, that you have your business plan. So, all of the back-end things that have to be in place to be what we consider "capital-ready," and to establish financial relationships, those are the things that we will be focusing on for 10,000 Black women across the country over the next three years in a very aggressive, multi-sector approach.

Anderson: We know that a Harvard Business Review report says that Black women are, in fact, starting businesses at a higher percentage than White women and White men. So, it's great that Black women are taking the lead. But a lower percentage of Black women are going on to run actual mature businesses. What does that tell you about the relevance of the work that you are doing at the Legacy Foundation?

Scales: It tells me that our work is very much needed, and that it is valid, and that our approach is to make sure that, once women open their businesses, that they are able to keep those doors open, and that they are sustainable and scaling.

Anderson: So, all this talk about business creation, sustainability, profitability, it all goes to a sort of larger issue that Madam C.J. Walker was an excellent example of, and that's the importance of building generational wealth. I mean, she did it for her family, as she grew her empire. She did it for other women who worked for her. How important is the mission in your work with Black women specifically, when it comes to generational wealth building? And how important is that kind of knowledge for for all women, regardless of race or ethnicity?

Scales: Yeah. Well, we know that women, regardless, are the backbone of our communities, they're the backbone of the economy. You know, over 100 years later, we are still talking about the relevance, the impact of Madam C.J. Walker. She had a model that worked, and we want to continue to ensure that women across this country are able to close racial and gender inequality through entrepreneurship. We know, surely, that that is a way that we can do that.

Anderson: And Ayris, if people want to find out more about your work, what's the website? where can they go?

Scales: Our website's simple -- We also use the same handles on our Instagram, our LinkedIn, and Facebook -- @walkerslegacy. Please follow us. We have tons of resources for you.

Anderson: Ayris Scales with Walker's Legacy Foundation. Thank you so much for being here.

Scales: And thank you for having me. I certainly hope I can come back, and continue to talk about our great work. Important work. And I also want to thank our viewers as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, just log on to I'm Tatiana Anderson.

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