BET on Oprah, Hair Care That’s the Jam, and Xeroxing History

Last day of February which means it’s the last day of Black History Month. It’s been a lot of fun finding interesting people  and gathering information about them (kinda like what I do for my show). It has been inspirational, as well, and I carry that close to my heart.

I will end today with five leaders from the business world. The first person is first for a reason: she’s my HERO!

Thank you for taking this journey with me this month; may you have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see YOU next month! ‘Till next time!

1. Oprah Winfrey (1954- )


Oprah Winfrey was born with the name “Orpah” after a biblical character in the Book of Ruth; however, people continuously mispronounced it and “Oprah” stuck. Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi to a teen mom who struggled her entire life to take care of Oprah and her siblings. For a huge chunk of her childhood, Oprah’s maternal grandmother took care of her and Oprah credits her success to her. Oprah grew up in dire poverty and was often made fun of because of it. While trying to overcome molestation, poverty, and feelings of abandonment, Oprah, with her grandmother’s encouragement, succeeded in school. She was in high school when she landed her first job at a radio station where she did the news part-time. Winning an oratory contest, she secured a full scholarship to Tennessee State University where she studied in communication. Oprah would single-handedly transform daytime talk show TV, creating a more intimate confessional form of media communication. Her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show was the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. She now owns and runs her own network called OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). I might never be considered the “Queen of All Media” like she is, but I can certainly try. (For more information, please visit here.)

Here is a still from Oprah’s very first talk show episode in 1986:


This is from Oprah’s Farewell Season 2011:


And from her current network (maybe I’ll own a network someday called ISN. Hmmm, not as catchy.):


2. Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919)


Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, near Delta, LO. She was the fifth child to parents who were freed slaves and their first child to be born free. Her mother passed away in 1874 and father a year later orphaning her at the age of 7. She moved in with her older sister and brother-in-law but, at the age of 14, left her oppressive situation and mistreatment by her brother-in-law by marrying a man named Moses McWilliams. In 1885, at age 18, she gave birth to a daughter, A’Leila. Two years later, Moses died and she moved herself and daughter to St. Louis where her brothers had established themselves as barbers. Here she met her second husband, Charles J. Walker who worked in advertising and would help promote her hair products. During the 1890s, she developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose hair and prompted her to invent a line of African American hair care products in 1905. She and Charles moved to Denver, CO where she perfected her products and Charles encouraged her to change her name to something more recognizable and, thus, “Madam C.J. Walker” was born. She purchased property in Harlem, NY and had business operations there although the base remained in Indianapolis. She is credited as being the first African American woman to become a self-made millionaire. She died on May 25, 1919 from hypertension and is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, NY. (For more information, please visit here.)

Here is a top to a tin with Walker’s hair care product:


And here is Walker’s commemorative stamp:


3. Robert L. Johnson (1946- )


Robert L. Johnson was born April 8, 1946 in Hickory, Mississippi but spent most of his childhood in Freeport, IL. He studied history at the University of Illinois and earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Princeton University. He and his wife, Sheila, founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979, launched in 1980 with broadcast at two hours a week. In 1991, BET became the first African American-owned company to be listed on the NY Stock Exchange, and in 2000 Viacom announced plans to purchase BET. The sale was finalized in 2001 making Johnson the richest African American in the US at the time, as well as the first African American billionaire. Upon selling BET to Viacom, Johnson established RLJ Companies, a holding company and asset management firm that handles portfolios for financial services, real estate, hospitality, professional sports, film production, automotive and gaming industries. (For more information, please visit here.)

Here is BET’s logo:

BET logo

4. Ursula Burns (1958- )


Ursula Burns was born September 20, 1958 in the Baruch Houses, a NY city housing project. She was raised by a single mother and went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Polytechnic Institute of NYU in 1980 and a master of science in the same field from Columbia University in 1981. She worked as a summer intern at Xerox in 1980 and became an official part of the family a year later upon finishing graduate school. She worked in various positions becoming an executive assistant in 1990 to then senior executive Wayland Hicks. In 1999, she was named vice president for global manufacturing and, in 2000, she became a senior vice president and worked closely with Anne Mulcahy who would eventually become CEO herself. In July 2009, she became CEO of Xerox becoming the first African American woman to head a Fortune 500 company, as well as the first woman to succeed another woman as head of a Fortune 500 Company. (For more information, please visit here.)

5. Russell Simmons (1957- )


Russell Simmons was born on October 4, 1957 in Queens, NY where he was raised. He co-founded the hip hop music label Def Jam in 1984 with partner Rick Rubin and would sign artists like the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Run D.M.C. He would create Rush Communications that, in addition to Def Jam, would include  his clothing fashion lines Phat Farm, Argyleculture, and American Classics. In 1999, he sold his stake in Def Jam Records to Universal Music Group. In 2000, he co-founded the Internet start-up 360 Hip Hop and later sold it to BET. (For more information, please visit here and here.)

Here is an image of Run D.M.C. with Def Jam from 1985 (image found on


Here is an image of the Beastie Boys with Def Jam from 1986:

beastie boys1986

Here is an image of LL Cool J with Def Jam (image found on

Here is an image of Public Enemy with Def Jam:


Here is an image from Argyleculture clothing line, fall 2012:


Here is an image from Simmons’ American Classics clothing line:



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