years ago, when she was just 26, Natalie Cofield was looking for a
mentor. A young woman with entrepreneurship hard-wired into her
spirit, she was discouraged that many did not take her seriously and
disheartened that she could not make the connections she needed to
further her entrepreneurial mission. So she started reading
biographies of businesswomen hoping to read up on the inspiration on
the page that she could not find in real life.
C.J. Walker jumped off the page for Natalie, and she found a kindred
spirit. Few names are more lauded in Black Women’s History
than that of Madame CJ Walker. She was the first African American
woman millionaire, it is said. The first to create a multi-level
marketing platform. The woman who used herbs, hair knowledge, and a
hot comb to create an empire. The woman who funded civil rights
activity, and also boldly admonished the men of her era for their
exclusionary attitudes. Because many of her eras dismissed her as a
“mere” hairdresser, her business success did not get the
attention it deserved. Thus, she disrupted Booker T. Washington's
National Negro Business League Convention in 1912 by demanding the
microphone. She boldly told the gathered men that she “promoted
myself” from the washtub to the kitchen to manufacturing. “I
have built my own factory on my own ground,” she told the
National Negro Business League. Natalie Cofield could not have found
more fitting inspiration.
Madeira Cofield founded Walker’s Legacy
(walkerslegacy.com) to fill the gap she found when she
looked for mentors and connections. It started as a quarterly
lecture series and has evolved to “a digital platform for the
professional and entrepreneurial multicultural woman. We exist to
inspire, equip, and engage through thought-provoking content,
educational programming, and a global community.” The
for-profit platform is the wave of the future, as imagined by a
millennial businesswoman who is committed, in the words of the late
Ron Brown, to “doing well and doing good.”
the way, Cofield has attracted the strong support of established
business leaders and thinkers, and especially the endorsement of
A’lelia Bundles, the great-great-granddaughter of Madame C.J.
Walker, her biographer and the keeper of the Walker flame, which she
shares with Natalie. “Every step of the way she has impressed
me with her ability to organize, ramp things up, create partnerships.
Every step of the way as she has tried to expand, she has met my
Johns, former Deputy Administrator of the Small Business
Administration met Natalie when she was leading the Austin Black
Chamber of Commerce. “Austin was hardly a hotbed of Black
Business activity,” said Johns, “but Natalie impressed me
with her energy and her acumen.”
was “a standout” as a Black Chamber exec, Johns recalls.
She expects Natalie to be a “transformative leader who will
build the infrastructure to provide Black businesswomen with their
rightful place in the economy. Like A’lelia Bundles, Marie
Johns is an Indianapolis native who grew up appreciating Madame C.J.
Walker’s legacy. But like Cofield and Bundles, Johns places
the legacy in a contemporary context. “Black women open
businesses more rapidly than other groups,” the Obama appointee
shared. “We need the kinds of support that organizations like
Walker’s Legacy provides.”
quick peek at the Walker’s Legacy website makes it clear that
Natalie Cofield is building a Black business women’s community.
The organization, which has grown from a one-person operation to
four full-time employees, a number of consultants, and directors in
Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Houston, and other cities. The
website gets around 40,000 unique views each month, and the number is
growing. It’s networking events sell out.
addition, Cofield created the Walker’s Legacy Foundation,
providing entrepreneurial training to young girls, low-income women,
and single moms. Last fall, the organization collected business
suits for Howard University students to wear for job interviews.
Cofield fully expects that the women who work with the Walker’s
Legacy Foundation will become members or supporters of Walker’s
are a go-to organization for women of color who are looking for
motivation, connection, education, personal finance and career
advice,” says Cofield. With a growing membership base of
highly educated (48 percent have a master’s degree or more)
enterprising young women (average age of 32) Cofield has her finger
on the future of Black women’s entrepreneurship.
you want to enjoy Madame C.J. Walker’s legacy, you can visit
the Walker Legacy Center, the national landmark to which the Lily
Foundation has just committed $15 million to renovate the space that
was part of the original Walker company office. Or, you can peruse
the Walker papers, now donated to Indiana Historical Society. Villa
Lewaro, the Madame Walker estate, has been restored and is part of
the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is a monument to
the spirit and tenacity of Black women’s entrepreneurship.
can also celebrate Madame Walker’s life and legacy by simply
checking out the Walker’s Legacy website and joining the
Walker’s Legacy community. When asked what she is most proud
of about her work, Natalie Cofield says that she is proud that she
never gave up on her vision, and that she put her whole heart into
the work. She sounds like her mentor, Madame C.J. Walker, who said
that steadfastness and persistence are the keys to success.