Breaking the Black Ceiling - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Breaking the Black Ceiling

Breaking the Black Ceiling

By OZY Editors


Now's the time for Black entrepreneurs to rise.

By OZY Editors

If you’re Black in America, you’re more likely to be an entrepreneur: 20 percent of the Black population started a business in recent years, compared to 12 percent of white Americans. This comes partly by necessity: A white-dominated upper echelon means the corporate path is more difficult, so many people of color choose to do their own thing. And they do it with fewer resources, which has been bad news for these small businesses amid the recession — 440,000 Black-owned businesses closed for good between February and mid-April alone. This summer’s racial justice reckoning spotlighted those challenges, but it also created new opportunities by applying pressure on corporate America to take a hard look at the need to open doors and eliminate barriers.

The result? A flowering of Black business that we’re highlighting in this week’s Sunday magazine. Read on for more about the entrepreneurs, industries and places to watch as you track this surge.

room to grow

Dual Roads to the Top. Since Black Entertainment Television co-founder Robert Johnson became the first Black billionaire in 2001 (followed shortly thereafter by Oprah Winfrey), the number of Black billionaires has steadily grown — and most of them are self-made. There are now more than a dozen Black billionaires globally, and seven in the U.S. out of a total of 614. Meanwhile, despite a slew of corporate diversity programs and pledges, the number of Black people who have risen to run Fortune 500 companies has remained steadily negligible for two decades: There are only five at the moment, with the number peaking at six in 2012. 

Give a Boost. Of course, there are Black-owned businesses in any field you can imagine. Check out this guide to supporting Black entrepreneurs, from bookstores to home decor to fitness and beauty. Because every dollar counts in closing the racial wealth gap. 

Room to Grow

Time to Lead. How do you navigate your cash flow? How can you adapt to today’s economic challenges? What are successful businesses doing right now? JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Sekou Kaalund shares details on Advancing Black Entrepreneurs by Chase for Business, a free toolkit for business owners to improve everything from supply chains to vendor relationships. Learn more on OZY.

on the rise

Kingpins of Fashion. The fashion industry has been notorious for pandering to racist stereotypes in the past. But now? The revolution is going far beyond Harlem. There’s Kerby Jean-Raymond at Pyer Moss, Shayne Oliver at Helmut Lang and, of course, Virgil Abloh — Louis Vuitton’s first Black artistic director and a rare Black designer at the top of a French heritage house. Kanye West has his own clothing line, and Rihanna and Jay-Z have served as creative directors at Puma. That’s giving rise to a scenario where the next Karl Lagerfeld — the iconic fashion designer, artist, photographer and caricaturist who was creative director of Chanel and Fendi — might well be Black. Read more on OZY.


Wielding Influence. It’s not just people at the top of major brands: Black influencers — a major industry unto themselves in the social media era — are increasingly sought after by marketers. Black influencers often have more credibility with their audience, and Black spending power ($1.3 trillion as of 2018) has grown more rapidly than that of white consumers in recent decades. That makes brands extra eager for a slice of the pie. Read more on OZY.

Cincy Magic. You might imagine Atlanta or New York when thinking about a Black business mecca, but cast your eyes to the Midwest: Cincinnati is setting itself apart for successful Black business, in part because of an innovative Minority Business Accelerator. It matches small firms with local giants like Johnson & Johnson, and even engineers minority buyers to take over healthy companies for a major transfer of wealth. Read more on OZY.

Stories of Success. Adam Bryant was a white New York Times columnist who often interviewed Black CEOs but avoided raising the topic of race. Rhonda Morris is chief human resources officer at Chevron, and she knows what it takes for a Black executive to get to the top. Together they launched “Leading in the B Suite,” a LinkedIn interview series with Black executives that tackles race in corporate America. They’ve chatted with top execs including OZY CEO and co-founder Carlos Watson, Ariel Investments president and CEO Mellody Hobson and BET’s Robert Johnson. Read more on OZY.

making waves

A $50M Power Couple. Black entrepreneurs are less likely to receive venture capital funding and, despite being more devoted to tech as consumers than any other demographic, Blacks only make up 6 percent of computer science degrees. Good thing there are people like Candice Matthews Brackeen and Brian Brackeen, a couple who launched a first-of-its-kind $50 million venture fund for underrepresented founders in the Midwest. It’s no charity: These are committed capitalists who know these founders can net big returns. Read more on OZY.


Candice Matthews Brackeen and Brian Brackeen

Find Your Inspiration. A stunning 40 percent of Black businesses were forced to close this year. However, as in all things, Black people are resilient. Take Daymond John. The FUBU founder and CEO and Shark Tank investor launched Black Entrepreneurs Day, presented by Chase for Business, to celebrate leaders such as BET co-founder Robert Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Gabrielle Union and others. The inaugural event will be held on Oct. 24 and hopes to encourage and uplift entrepreneurs during a time when it’s easy to be down. 

Gabrielle Union’s Career Advice. The actress who broke out with Bring It On got started simply by taking a call and showing up — on Saved by the Bell. Dive into her life lessons on career, racial justice and #MeToo on The Carlos Watson Show. Watch Now.

Putting the Black Dollar to Work. Jewel Burks Solomon is staring down some daunting numbers: A mere 1 percent of companies that secure venture capital funding have Black founders, with Black female founders receiving less than 0.2 percent. After doing it on her own — founding a startup then selling it to Amazon — she’s now in a position to do the same for others. As head of Google for Startups, she helps empower a diverse range of startups, and as managing partner at Collab Capital — a venture fund that is backing Black-owned businesses — Solomon is helping build a path to sustained wealth. Read more on OZY.

Confronting Racism in Philanthropy. Aaron Walker was upset. After the senseless killing of George Floyd, he stared down the systemic racism in his corner of the venture capital world and drafted a frustrated email to an investor. But instead of sending the missive, Walker, CEO and founder of Camelback Ventures, is tackling the problem head-on by staging racial justice training for white executives at philanthropies and corporations. Read more on OZY.

A New Picture on Screen. Blind spots for people of color are not limited to the business world. Just ask Nigerian American Funa Maduka who, as director of international original films for Netflix, elevated the voices of the unseen. During her tenure, Netflix acquired dozens of titles across Africa, and commissioned original flicks from Nigeria and South Africa. Now she’s left the streaming giant to work on her own projects, with plans for lifting up more unlikely voices. Read more on OZY.

world of progress

Breaking Out of the Continent. Africa’s most successful startups are increasingly expanding into Europe, the Americas and Asia. From Nigeria’s mobile money service Paga to Egypt’s bus-hailing app Swvl, these Black entrepreneurs see a global opportunity — and they aren’t afraid to grab it.

Inside China’s Chocolate City. Guangzhou, China, often referred to as “chocolate city” due to the influx of African immigrants, has become a melting pot for immigrant cultures with entrepreneurial aspirations. In this southern industrial megalopolis, these survivors have faced down racial discrimination — only heightened during trying times this year — but there remains a booming economy driven by the hustle.


Insuring the Uninsurable. When Ntando Kubheka was 4, a tropical storm hit his hometown in South Africa, rendering his family temporarily homeless. Although able to recover, Kubheka learned an invaluable lesson: Home insurance is critical. Now, as an entrepreneur and CEO of Sugar, Kubheka has launched a platform to ensure that millions of poor South Africans, no matter the living conditions, have a roof over their head. Read more on OZY.

Creating a Tattoo Culture. For the longest time, getting a tattoo in Tunisia was more than taboo. With colonization and Islamization, tattoos became a source of shame and were ultimately deemed illegal. While no longer prohibited by law, there are very few tattoo parlors and uneasiness surrounds the process. Cue Fawez Zahmoul, who started his shop in 2016. As the head of Tunisia’s first licensed tattoo studio, he’s breathing life into the Arab world’s tattoo scene, and his school is training the next generation of artists. Read more on OZY.

Rethinking the Toilet. For most, the idea of flushing waste down a toilet and into sewer pipes is common sense. But in countries like Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia and Uganda, where such infrastructure is expensive, they’ve been benefiting from a quiet revolution in approaches to sanitation. These innovations come from entrepreneurs, academics and nonprofit leaders, and instead of letting waste go to waste (pun intended), they’re transforming it into electricity and organic fertilizer. Read more on OZY.

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