Monday, June 19, 2006

Goodman brings black entrepreneur to life

An article from the Chicago Sun-Times a story based on the life of Madame CJ Walker...

That's because the spirit of Midwest entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, who died in 1919, and those she's inspired will be in the house.

Goodman is premiering in Chicago "The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove," a story based on Walker, who built an empire selling hair care products to black women, pioneering the Mary Kay-style sales force and ushering in an era of vanity that's fueling a billion-dollar business.

Although the play deals primarily with her tumultuous relationship with her daughter, the Goodman is using the historical figure's rep in the beauty industry as a bridge to fill seats at the production, its last of the season.

Next Monday, the Chicago-based trade journal Salon Sense will host a Black Hair Care Industry Appreciation Night, appealing to stylists and businesswomen.

At 7 p.m. tonight, the Goodman will present a panel discussion -- "The Legacy of Madam C.J. Walker" -- with female and African-American entrepreneurs as part of its Stage Door Series. The panel will discuss progress since Walker's time and existing obstacles to success.

Here's some of the impact of Ms. Walker...

Past editions of the Guiness Book of World Records listed Walker -- a philanthropist, feminist and civil rights advocate -- as the first self-made American woman millionaire.

Said Chicago playwright and director Regina Taylor, "She was part of changing how black women saw themselves -- from unseen shadows, field hands, domestics. As a Walker representative, they could reinvent themselves into financially viable businesswomen. She helped change how the world saw black women in terms of how we saw ourselves in terms of beauty."

Born Sarah Breedlove on a Louisiana plantation in 1867, orphaned at age 7, and married at age 14 to escape an abusive brother-in-law, the hair care baron took the familiar name after marrying her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker.

She was a sales agent for another black female entrepreneur before striking out on her own door-to-door sales path to push scalp conditioner, pressing oil and shampoo, demonstrating the products in churches and lodges, and popularizing the hot comb among black women.

Her Indianapolis-based company employed 3,000 factory workers and more than 20,000 agents, which Walker organized into local and state clubs and brought together for a massive 1917 convention in Pennsylvania, thought to be one of the first national meetings of businesswomen in the country.

"She set a foundation that the majority still use today," said Terri Winston, publisher of Salon Sense magazine. "She was the inroad that led African Americans to succeed and become entrepreneurs and possible billionaires in an untapped marketplace."

Companies such as Chicago-based Dudley Products Inc., Luster Products Inc., summit Laboratories and Dr. Earles LLC all owe a debt to Walker, said Geri Duncan Jones, executive director of the Chicago-based American Health and Beauty Aids Institute, a trade group that Walker Co. helped found. Walker estate trustees sold the company in 1985.

"These companies started with very little money, making products in their basement, and now, they're multimillion-dollar businesses with hundreds of thousands of customers," Jones said. "It's a testament, and very good example of what Madam C.J. Walker did that other manufacturers are doing today."
Here's some information about the show...
"The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove," now in preview productions at the Goodman Theatre, opens June 27. Tickets cost $20 to $65. For information, call (312) 443-3800 or visit http://www.goodmantheatre.org/

1 comment:

Nick Schmidt said...

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