Starting, running and growing a business, especially at a young age, takes passion, energy, drive,
innovation and momentum.
The 14 young entrepreneurs honored in the 31st annual edition of the Aetna African American History Calendar all believed it was possible to do something extraordinary with their lives.
They were born with an entrepreneurial spirit. Many entered into business for themselves before the age of 10. They found ways to make money early on — selling items such as hand-painted rocks, lotions and perfumes, music lessons, clothing and jewelry; and doing yard work for neighbors.
We traveled across the country to gain perspectives from young entrepreneurs who, despite humble
beginnings, have already earned millions, sold and purchased businesses, formed foundations to
support youth, authored books, and even had their faces pictured on credit cards.
They are amazing and bright individuals who have leveraged the advancement of technology to further their dreams and advance their success. As leaders for the next generation of business, these young
entrepreneurs are at the top of the pack among their peers.
Aetna is pleased to present the 31st annual African American History Calendar, celebrating the remarkable ambition of young entrepreneurs who are working day and night to make a difference in the communities where they live and work.
Documented African American history primarily focuses on the fight for racial equality by political activists and social reformers. Absent in historical records, however, are African Americans who forged and encouraged economic liberation through entrepreneurship and business enterprise.
Throughout history, business ingenuity and innovation have driven and inspired black business development and expansion. This continues today with the abundance of young entrepreneurs bringing business ideas to reality, establishing new business categories, leveraging creative ingenuity and conquering unforeseen challenges.
Black business history dates back to Colonial America. Until the Civil War, both slaves and free blacks worked as business owners in the preindustrial mainstream business community. The most successful black businesspeople were wholesale and retail merchants, as well as lumber and coal merchants. Some were commission brokers, as well as manufacturers. Blacks also owned steamships and railroad cars. Others invested in government, and commercial stocks and bonds. Several achieved wealth in excess of $100,000, particularly those who owned large real estate holdings and plantations.
Blacks also were involved in international trade. In 1784, Paul Cuffe became the first black to sail as master of his own ship. By 1806, he had a fleet of five ships transporting commodities to and from the West Indies, Africa, England, Sweden and Russia.
African American women also have a historic tradition in business dating back to Colonial times. They established domestic and personal service enterprises. The Remond sisters established a hair salon and wig factory in Massachusetts; as well as manufactured medicated hair tonics, which generated substantial mail order sales. Elizabeth Keckley, the dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln, owned a Washington, D.C., haute couture fashion house that employed many female black seamstresses. In New Orleans,
in the 1850s, Madame Macarty owned a railroad depot worth more than $155,000.
Since that time, much progress has been made by young black entrepreneurs. They are at the forefront of developing successful enterprises inside and outside the home.
Many of them, some of whom are profiled in this calendar, have capitalized on the evolution of information technology to provide them with a global customer base.
This millennial generation of entrepreneurs is well educated and well versed. They start young and maintain momentum until success is achieved. Many are millionaires before turning 20 years old. They are passionate pioneers — just as their ancestors who came before them — on a quest to make the world a better place.
Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker is founder and director of the Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she also serves as a history professor.
Throughout history, business ingenuity
and innovation have driven and inspired black business development and expansion.