Aiming to crack the glass ceiling during the Great Depression, Emma Odessa Young, a New York realtor launched the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Inc., in New York City in 1934.
Young became an invalid. But the organization she launched to “promote and protect the interests” of business-and-professional-women-of-color, spread its wings and soared. At its first national convention in 1936, the organization elected Ollie Chinn Porter as its first president, according to its website. Nearly 50 years later, Hampton opened a branch in 1984.
While the number of women who attend the non-profit’s monthly meeting in Hampton has dropped from double-to-single-digit numbers in recent years, the group still upholds its founder’s mission: It aims to support and create opportunities for business-and-professional-women-of-color.
“It has impacted my life because it has made me go out into the community and help others,” said Dorothy Murray, who was teaching at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind when a colleague asked her to join in the mid-1980s.
“I think at that point there were about 20 active members in the Hampton Club (compared to seven active members today),” said Murray, a 1960 Norfolk State University graduate, who joined in 1984, worked on various committees, and became president in 1997.
“I’ve been the president off and on since 1997, not consecutive years,” Murray said. “They told me they elected me because they felt I would make a great leader because I worked with many other organizations.”
Murray headed the Virginia School Education Association in the mid-1980s when she joined. She also worked with youth in her church, and at the polls. “They told me they saw leadership ability in me.”
This is where that glass ceiling comes in. The group’s founder Emma Odessa Young wanted to see more women move past the invisible but stubborn barriers that stop many minorities and women from rising through the ranks. Although the glass ceiling is still intact, it is also showing signs of wear of tear. For example, voters recently sent 100 plus females to Congress. Another example is the historic number of African-American females who have become business owners in recent years.
Black-female-owned businesses increased by 67.5 percent, while white female-owned businesses increased by 10.1 percent, according to 2012 Census data. Asian female-owned businesses increased by 44 percent. Hispanic female-owned operations increased by a whopping 87.5 percent.
The organization still focuses on issues that help women make progress. For example, one of the group’s members, Dr. Michelle-Boone Thornton launched a business with her husband, Virgil, in 2012.
Thornton said, “I joined the group in 2016 because of my mother, Pocahontas Boone. (Her mother joined the organization in 1984 and served as the director of admissions for the Virginia State School for the Deaf and Blind. She passed in 2008).
“Being a member has impacted my life and my business because I see the importance now of actually developing yourself,” said Thornton, who earned her doctoral degree at Regent University and her master’s and bachelor’s degrees at Christopher Newport University. She teaches at Saint Leo University.
Thornton and her husband run CMV Communicators LLC with their three accomplished children, Courtney, Marrisa, and Virgil (who range in age from 28-19). According to the website, CMV Communicators LCC is a family-operated business that provides an array of services including motivational and leadership training, life coaching, and methods to increase sales and program development/analysis.
“We had this idea of opening a business where we would help people improve themselves through leadership,” Thornton said. “Our company is named after our children, who do some of the lectures and speaking engagements.”
Thornton added, “Being a member has empowered me to branch out and open my own business and offer leadership training to any woman who is trying to improve herself and become a leader … This group gives you the confidence to step out.”
At meetings, members gain access to information including guest speakers who provide lectures and information such as how to write a book, open a business, or access local services.
Thornton said. “This group teaches women to step out on faith and make it happen. That’s what this group has done for me. I believe you can lead from anywhere – wherever you are,” Thornton said. “That is the philosophy and the theme of our organization, as well as our business.”
Thornton added, “There are hundreds of women out there who have an idea in their heart but don’t know where to turn,” she said. “To me this group is a very valuable resource for any woman who wants to expand herself, expand her business, or find support from other women. In my opinion, it is a resource that is not fully utilized.”
By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide