Top 10 Lessons From African American Entrepreneurs in History

Sometimes, you can get in tough situations.  You experience adversity.  People may treat someone else better than they treat you, they may talk down to you, or even spit at or get physical with you.

Injustice is humiliating, and it can take a toll on your personal identity if you let it.  Unfortunately, there’s also times where it’s not as cut-and-dry as simply ending the relationship, relocating, getting another job, or solving the problem for good.  Sometimes, you may have to stay put in a situation where you’re faced with adversity for a prolonged period of time.

People like the Jews experienced this type of hatred several times throughout history, but the most recent widespread tragedy was in the Holocaust.  People living under a dictatorship or in communism face this adversity, and others live in climates where injustice seems to permeate the air.

In situations where you have to bear adversity, it can be difficult to know what to do.  If someone hits you, the easiest reflex is to hit them back (or maybe even shoot them if you’re “locked and loaded”).  If someone spits at you, your blood pressure is likely to begin boiling, and you may even question taking their life; especially, if you don’t have wise examples of people who struggled thru adversity like some of these African American Entrepreneurs in history.

african american entrepreneurs in historyThe Ongoing Battle of Race and Human Value

In the US, from the founding of the country until today, there’s been a battle over race and human value.

In my opinion, it’s overrated, and I wish we could just GET OVER IT, but it’s not that easy.

Some people have been trained to believe the color of the skin makes one person more valuable than another.  As a result of this dysfunctional limiting belief about skin color and value that was carried here from those who settled the country, the African American race experienced many injustices that they still struggle to overcome today.

Decades after laws permit equal rights, there are still African American people who experience injustice and others who haven’t overcome the limiting beliefs they’ve acquired from being surrounded by injustice.

Even when people ally with African American people, they find these situations where segregation and injustice arises towards them simply because they’ve chosen to be an ally.  For example, interracial couples or people of other ethnic groups who surround themselves with African American people sometimes experience the same rejection and shame simply by association.

It’s unfortunate.

Check out this video for the 10 lessons to learn from African American Entrepreneurs in History:

What Types of Adversity Did African Americans in History Undergo?

African American entrepreneurs weren’t exempt.  Though they made amazing inventions and solutions that positively impact our world today, they still experienced hatred and injustice.  At times, the racial injustice inhibited them from having the impact they otherwise could have had.  They experienced things like:

  • Being spit on
  • Getting beat with whips
  • Name calling
  • Emotional abuse
  • Watching loved ones get killed
  • Being placed in cages like animals
  • Not having choices of where or how to live
  • Getting scraps for food
  • and many other unfortunate things

Being treated with hatred can take a toll on your personal identity, your confidence, and your sense of self-worth if you’re not careful.  As a result, most counselors concur that if you’re in an abusive situation, you should leave as soon as you can, but for some of these African American people, fleeing wasn’t an option.

While things have gotten much better than they were historically, there are still some parts of the US where African American people can’t escape intense prejudice and injustice.  Even wealthy African American Entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey, Daymond John, or Magic Johnson who have climbed steep economic ladders into the top percentile of the country’s wealth, can attest to horrendous times where they face hatred because of their skin color.  Despite the adversity that many African American Entrepreneurs experienced for the last 200 years since America was founded, there have been some who have transcended the injustice, and advanced the course of equality in America.

These phenomenal African American entrepreneurs did not always retaliate when they could have, they didn’t express vengeance or treat the people who did them wrong like they were treated.  Sometimes, these African American Entrepreneurs stood as the “bigger person”, and chose to end a cycle of negative behavior by being the change they wished to see, rather than deflecting the blame, and participating in the cycle for the abuse to reoccur..

african american entrepreneursThe Top 10 Lessons from African American Entrepreneurs in History

Ending a cycle isn’t easy though, and it doesn’t effectively happen without great mantras cycling thru the mind.  They had to face the things being spoken to them, and ensure they didn’t acquire self-limiting beliefs.  They had to stay zealous and maintain the beliefs all entrepreneurs must have.  These are 10 of the mantras of famous African American Entrepreneurs that can help you stabilize your identity, remove self-limiting beliefs, and transcend adversity…

1. You Define Yourself – Don’t Let Others Define You

I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” – Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was an African American Entrepreneur and leader during the time of slavery.  In fact, he was born as a slave, but fled slavery at the age of 20.  After running away to a free state, Douglass began speaking, writing, and participating in activism.  His work is referenced by many (including President Trump) who push forward the cause of equality and positive change.

As you can see, Frederick Douglass chose to define himself even when people around him called him a “slave”, “Nigger”, and felt that he was equal to an animal!  He didn’t allow others; perceptions to dictate his behavior or his self identity.

2. Let Adversity Give You Strength

“Without a struggle, there can be no progress.” – Frederick Douglass

Despite the immense struggles Douglass experienced, he didn’t despise adversity.  Instead, he believed adversity is a tool for growth.  If we can shift our paradigms to envision adversity as a friend, we can see adversity as our classroom or our teacher rather than as our enemy.

african american entrepreneurs3. Create Opportunities – Don’t Wait on Them to Come To You

“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity.  But I made it!  Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come.  Get up and make them.” – Madam CJ Walker

Madame CJ Walker became a millionaire before the Women’s rights movement, before Mary Kay, and before African American business grants!  She’s known as the first black woman millionaire in America, and she became wealthy by selling her own self-made hair care product line that she sold thru self-promotion.

Despite the controversial views about women and how they should participate in the marketplace, or how African Americans should be viewed, Madame CJ Walker was able to thrive!  She didn’t wait on opportunities to come to her, but instead, created new ones, and we should too.

4. Don’t Undervalue Yourself

“When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.” – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is known as the wealthiest African American Woman in the US.  She experienced alot of adversity in her early childhood including rape, racism, and betrayal.  Despite her adversity, Oprah stood strong, created a strong sense of her self-worth, and pursued maximizing her potential as the media mogul she’s become.  Now, she’s known as one of the most powerful women in the world.

Undervaluing yourself can cause you to price less than what you should, to chase opportunities in a desperate way, and to send people running.  Instead, your talents should make room for you, and when you value yourself, you’ll allow the opportunities to magnetize towards you.

Check out this video from billionaire John Barfield on starting a business from scratch during the times of racial inequality and lynching:

5. Never Be Afraid to Fail (or Even Fail Alot)

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” –  Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is known as one of the NBA’s best players of all time.  He had an amazing basketball career full of championships, trophies, and medals, but that wasn’t enough for him.

After retiring from the NBA, Michael Jordan reached new levels of success as a businessman.  After several contracts with Nike, and other business deals, he’s become one of the richest men in the world with a net worth of more than $1 billion dollars.

All of his success could lead you to believe Jordan never experienced adversity, but he did.  As you can see in his quote, he had several failures.  His message to us is to welcome failure as a part of our journey to success, but don’t give up and allow failure to be the destination.

6. There is no “Perfect Timing”

“Don’t wait for the ‘perfect time’, you will wait forever. Always take advantage of the time that you’re given.” – Daymond John

Daymond John is best known for the ABC sitcom “Shark Tank” and his clothing line “For Us By Us” or FUBU.  He was raised in poverty by a single mother.  He struggled thru school because he had undiagnosed dyslexia.  Despite his adversity, he has become a peculiar success story, and his message to us is to go for it.  He says there’s no “perfect timing”, so why wait for it?

african american entrepreneurs7. Take Initiative To Get Attention From Powerful People

“It’s up to you to bring yourself to the attention of powerful people around you. They’re not going to find you on their own.” — Richard Parsons

Richard Parsons has a colorful background as an executive in several multimillion dollar companies including Time Warner, CitiGroup, the Los Angeles Clippers, and CBS.  Assuredly, he experienced adversity and challenges, but he still was able to achieve very notable things.

Many successful people will tell you to “find a mentor”.  Richard Parsons tells you to “get attention from powerful people”.

8. Conquer Your Limiting Beliefs and Insecurities

“The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself—the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us—that’s where it’s at.” — Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens was a four time Olympic gold medalist that competed years before Martin Luther King’s prominence, and even competed in Berlin when Hitler hosted the Olympics!  In fact, the year Owens did his gold medal sweep, there was alot of controversy.  Hitler wanted only Aryan people to compete in the Olympics, which nearly led to a boycott until the Nazi’s decided to take down any propaganda before the event.  Owens was no stranger to racism and the hatred that transcends from it, but he persisted to achieve his goals.

There are so many self-limiting beliefs you deal with on a daily basis.  They can range from “I don’t think people will like me when I wear this” to “I’m not sure if I’m capable of doing this”, and if you let them lead your actions, you could place a big barrier around what you’re capable of.  Instead, Owens says you should conquer your inner battles because that’s the ones that really count.

african american entrepreneurs in history9. Stay Competitive

If you’re a competitive person, that stays with you. You don’t stop. You always look over your shoulder. -Magic Johnson

Magic Johnson was a star NBA player and point guard.  He won several championships, and he still holds the record for earning an MVP in his rookie year.  After an abrupt decision to retire from the NBA because of the diagnosis of HIV, he went “all in” as a businessman.  Since, he’s been responsible for billions of dollars in wealth, been part owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, owned several Starbucks locations, and done lots of philanthropy.

He feels that we should stay competitive.  When we feel there’s no competition, we get complacent, we relax, and we may even underserve and undercut our potential.  When you stay paranoid that someone could pass you by, you work hard, you stay maximizing your productivity, and you attempt to outpace and outwork your competition.

10. Treat People Well

You are where you are today because you stand on somebody’s shoulders. And wherever you are heading, you cannot get there by yourself. If you stand on the shoulders of others, you have a reciprocal responsibility to live your life so that others may stand on your shoulders. It’s the quid pro quo of life. We exist temporarily through what we take, but we live forever through what we give.” – Vernon Jordan

Vernon Jordan is an American business executive an lawyer who specializes in civil rights activism.  He has participated as an advisor to several presidents, and is the only black person to attend as many Bilderberg group meetings.  He has experienced lots of adversity including being shot and the person denying that they attempted to murder him.  Regardless of his personal turmoil, he stands strong as an example that you don’t have to express distrust towards everyone because of one person’s adverse behavior towards you.

Check out this Video on African American Entrepreneurs

This video explains African American history.  Check it out!

Final Words on Life Lessons from Famous African American Entrepreneurs

The goal of this article was to show you life-altering lessons from famous African American Entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, we all experience hardship and adversity at some time or another.  These quotes can help you stay grounded even in hard situations.  If you have questions or concerns about this, don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments section.  I’d love to help you out!

If you’re interested in growing a business, check out my free e-course. It’s a framework to grow a business: from idea to enterprise. Check out my free e-course here.

Now, it’s Your Turn…

What was your favorite takeaway from this article on famous African American Entrepreneurs?  Did a quote really resonate with you?  Which one?  Do you have any lessons you learned from African American Entrepreneurs that you’d like to add?  Leave your comments and questions below.

20 thoughts on “Top 10 Lessons From African American Entrepreneurs in History”

  1. As an African American business owner, I’m always grateful for the people in history that had to endure these poor conditions and treatment in order for me to be free to have this opportunity. I’m glad that things are moving away from these sort of instances towards equality and fair treatment. Yes, there’s still a ways to go but I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about being whipped, shot or spat on.

    Thanks for sharing,


    1. I agree Marlinda! I hate seeing the things they had to experience in history, and I’ve not had to deal with anything in comparison to some. I have witnessed some people who hated me to my guts simply for my skin color and it was shocking. Beyond racism and adversity, it’s good to apply these 10 lessons from african american entrepreneurs in history. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hey Tiffany,

    You always present such awesome and thought-provoking articles…and you really hit this one out of the park. Great job!

    It really is a shame that there are people who believe they are better than others.  Whether that is based on gender, religion, race, skin color, sexual preference, social status, or economic class – it’s all just so wrong.

    I think the very things you list as empowering points (defining yourself, self-worth, risk-taking, creating own opportunities. etc) are all the characteristic needed to be a fulfilled person.  Only then can you share with others.  Injustice, hatred, and inequality mostly (but not always) comes from fear and ignorance….and poor self esteem.  Seems easier for many to knock someone down rather than raise yourself up.

    If you are confident in yourself and believe you are in this world to help your fellow woman (and man) then these negative social actions don’t have a place to survive.

    Well done…and thank you for the hard work you put into researching the history of African American Entrepreneurs.  Great ideas and world-changing breakthroughs can come from any of us.

    1. Hi Tim! I love what you said about how people who demonstrate hatred towards others do it because of self-esteem, ignorance, or issues of fear. I always say “broken people hurt people”, which supports what you’ve said.

  3. It is so sad that people had to endure such hardships in life due to skin colour. I hope one day racism is a thing of the past.

    The values African American entrepreneurs have experienced and you have passed on to us are extremely valuable lessons.

    When I was a child, NFL had just come to the UK and the Quarterback at the time was Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins. He had to overcome racism while trying to make it as a pro footballer I remember reading about it. His desire to succeed and determination lead him to wining a Superbowl. 

    The reason I am telling you is that I am in my forties now and still remember his story which I have remembered when I needed that push to succeed in situations and projects in my own life.

    Thank you for sharing


  4. A truly interesting read – not just from the point of view that I consider myself a budding Entrepreneur, but more from the angle that I have learned a lot about people I was not fully educated in before. 

    You are right in saying that all of us suffer from some form of hardship and adversity in our lives, for many it’s in their teenage years, and these bad times do have the power to shape our lives…if we let them. 

    Out of all the lessons you have listed here in your article, which one do you feel has been the most beneficial to your business journey?

    1. Hi Chris! All of the 10 lessons have influenced my business journey, however, if I had to pick one, I’d probably say #10 treat people well.

  5. This is a very thought provoking article which defines clearly the adversites, intimidation and injustices African-Americans and other races, have had to endure in their history. Unfortunately, although conditions have changed for the better, there are still many people who express racial intolerance to many ethnic groups and religions.

    Despite our so called modern society, many are still having to cope with race-related persecution. This post is about the problems within the US. Even so, I have seen numerous examples where racial discrimination is still rife within the UK and Europe.

    I’m sure that this adversity has made those that have had to suffer it, stronger. I am saddened that the problem still exists but the strength and resilience of all persecuted races will always shine through. They will surely be known for their stoicism, courage and strength of character. Good luck to you and thanks for an enlightening article.

    1. Hello Ches,

      I agree that the existence of racial intolerance is saddening, but the wisdom that’s come from those who transcended it, is so rich. I love studying the overcomers of adversity like the African American Entrepreneurs in this article. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your views.

  6. Sujandar Mahesan

    This article is phenomenal. Reading and learning about the history is always a benefit for anyone . This article really covers how they overcame their obstacles and also states the top 10. It’s important that everyone who starts entrepreneurship learns a bit about these things . I’m really thankful to you for writing this article and sharing it with us.

  7. This was a really inspiring post. It is really unfortunate that the divide between race seems to be getting wider in one sense-it is just perhaps more hidden therefore makes it harder to identify. Your tips are fantastic and I like how you gave examples of famous people who found there way through adversity despite the odds. Sometimes I feel that adversity can be our motivator-if we are able to find a way through it we become more knowledgable, more powerful, more successful because that adversity has strengthened us to go beyond our perceived boundaries and tap into that part of us which is infinite and resilient. I cannot speak from the experience of being African American, but I feel your tips are universal in nature and we all could use that advice. 

    1. Thanks Liz! I’m glad you pointed out how the tips are universal because that was my intention. I was simply using the African American Entrepreneurs from history as an illustration of how we also can overcome tough times with our heads held high.

  8. julienne murekatete

    Hello Tiffany,you are a wonderful writer . The colour of skin doesn’t count to be entrepreneur. As you said many africans have become big entrepreneurs though they were despised before. To be entrepreneur ,people must look inside themselves and focus to what they want .Today we have many black people who are rich and white people who are poor.

    Anyway we are all humans and we can achieve whatever we want regardless our races.

  9. Your discussion is so helpful and inspiring.

    I understand that some culture or people are so discriminating, especially with skin color or just the country where you came from, but like you said, we should not take them seriously. Rather, let these hurtful remarks challenge us to be the best that we can be, whether in business, at work or in any endeavor that we accomplish.

    I like it when you said, ” treat people well.” This is a very powerful way to be successful, especially if you are a leader or you manage a company. The people are your lifeline, without treating your employees well, your business will not succeed.

    Do’t be afraid of failures is really very true as well. Let these be a challenge for us to get better. These give us lessons in life.

    I don’t believe 100% when you said, ” get attention from powerful people,” I think  anybody can be successful without those people in power. Just working the best that you can will bring you success.

    Thanks for sharing this inspiring post.


    1. Hello Marita! Thanks for sharing your opinions here. The concept that I mentioned about getting attention from powerful people is leverage. Leverage enables you to have access to knowledge, audiences and opportunities simply by making a connection. Mentorship even fits into this category. Im sure there are ways to achieve success without intentionally seeking powerful people, however, applying leverage would expedite things quite a bit.

  10. Hello and thank you for this wonderful article. It is really sad to see through what has one black person went – in the last 200-300 years. From slavery to segregation and very bad treatment in the last century.

    In spite of that, black people held their heads straight and never lost hope or spirit. That is why there are truly so many marvelous African American entrepreneurs and humanists.

    All of these you’ve mentioned can be applied to anyone who wants to succeed in life. My personal favorite is that there is no perfect time. You have to act in moment and sees the opportunities as they come. Many people are searching for excuses and are not ready to take action waiting for the perfect time to act. The fact is – there is not perfect time there is only now.

    I really enjoyed reading your article.


    1. Thanks Strahinja for sharing your insight on this. I think there are some who were very discouraged because of the events and I’m sure most African Americans had doubts at times, but it’s nice to learn from those who pushed past the adversity.

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