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My Sista’s Business…Meena Harris

Meena Harris Empowers the Phenomenal Woman

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What happens when fashion, feminism, and philanthropy collide? Meena Harris’ “Phenomenal Woman” campaign, inspired by the illustrious Maya Angelou’s iconic poem is born. I’m sure that by now you’ve seen countless celebs like Issa Rae, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Viola Davis rocking this bold statement tee with pride and for good reason. 100% of the proceeds will be donated to Emerge America, EMILY’s List, Essie Justice Group, Girls Who Code, NARAL, Planned Parenthood and The United State of Women. For those of you curious to know how Meena conceptualized and executed this revolutionary campaign with such impeccable timing, we’ve got the inside scoop for you right here:

In Her Shoes: What inspired the launch of the “Phenomenal Woman” campaign?

Meena: Coming out the presidential election, a lot of us were obviously feeling defeat and experiencing grief. But I still woke up the next morning having confidence that, even though we may have lost, we wouldn’t be deterred. Most of all, I knew that we as women are strong and resilient — and we are phenomenal! I wanted to expand my t-shirt brand post-election, to create a unified and empowering identity for the new wave of activists that have risen up, while also honoring the women who came before us. One of those women is Maya Angelou, and her poem Phenomenal Woman inspired the words that I now wear proudly.

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In Her Shoes: How long did it take you to get the campaign up and running from conception to execution?

Meena: It all happened very quickly, in large part because of the momentum coming out of the election and the Women’s March. I printed a sample batch of t-shirts at the end of January, and our big launch was March 8, International Women’s Day. On that day alone, we sold 2,500 t-shirts, and during the first two months of the campaign, we sold nearly 8,500 tees to benefit our seven non-profit partners.

Renae Phenomenal Woman

In Her Shoes: Was this project a collective effort?

Meena: I’ve partnered with Omaze, an online fundraising platform, to run operations and some of the digital marketing, but everything else for the most part has been a solo effort. I’ve also been lucky to have incredibly supportive friends that have volunteered in various ways to keep the campaign going, including showing up for our in-person pop-ups to help with major components like event planning, promotion, and actual setup. I feel really luck to have such a generous and encouraging network!

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In Her Shoes: Who was the first celeb to participate and how did you get others to join in?

Meena: Issa Rae and America Ferrera were the first celebs to participate. Both are friends, so being able to show others that such influential and inspirational women leaders had joined our cause from the very beginning made it pretty easy to convince others to participate!

’Cause I’m a woman/ Phenomenally/ Phenomenal woman/ That’s me.

– Maya Angelou

Click here to celebrate the Phenomenal Woman in you today!

Black History Month Icon: Cathy Hughes

Cathy Hughes, Radio One: From Teen Mom To Media Mogul

 

Cathy Hughes And Son

 
Cathy Hughes went from teen mom to radio station owner sleeping on the floor with her son before building Radio One into a $433 million corporation.

When Cathy Hughes got pregnant at age 16, her friends said her life was over. Her mother kicked her out of the house. Hughes said she “was in shock.”

But pregnancy “was the beginning,” Hughes said. The birth of her son, Alfred Liggins, as “an impetus to achieve,” Hughes told The Huffington Post. “It was the reason I took my life seriously for the first time as a teenager and made a promise to myself, my son and God that he would not become a black statistic.”

Hughes did end up becoming a statistic: She started the largest African-American owned and operated broadcast company in the U.S. and became the first African-American woman to head a publicly traded company. Her Washington, D.C.-based Radio One has 53 radio stations in 16 urban markets, with projected 2012 revenues of $433 million. As CEO, Liggins has expanded Radio One into TV and online ventures.

Hughes’ rise from teen mom to media mogul didn’t come easily. Working her way up at the Howard University radio station in the 1970s, she had the opportunity in 1979 to buy a radio station with her husband. When they separated within a year, the business tumbled. She lost her home but refused to give up her company. She and her son slept on the floor of the radio station until she finally turned the business around.

HuffPost Small Business talked to Hughes about her passion for radio, growing up poor and what it was like to raise a child without a home.

How did your love of radio start?

When I was 8, my mother gave me a transistor radio for Christmas, and I became obsessed with radio. We were living in the projects in Omaha, Neb., six of us with one bathroom, and I would lock myself in the bathroom and use my toothbrush as a microphone, looking in the mirror, doing the commercials and news. People were always pounding on the door, telling me to get out, but I was preparing for my future life.

Did you believe that life was over after getting pregnant?

Everyone in my world thought I should have an abortion, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I couldn’t penalize another human being with the mistake I made, even though I realized I didn’t have the education and financial resources I needed. Having that baby forced me to put someone else ahead of my own selfish desires.

I became an entrepreneur because of him. One day, he had a fever and my employer said “if you walk out that door, don’t come back.” That’s when I decided I needed to be in control of my professional environment so I could be there for my child.

What was the most important lesson you learned as a teen mom that translated to running a business?

Focus. An elderly woman who provided child care told me the secret to successful parenting was to keep your attention focused on your children. And one of the key characteristics of an effective manager is to not have your attention distracted from your employees, goals and objectives. You have to keep your eye on the prize, whether that’s running a business or rearing a child.

How did you end up living on the floor of your radio station?

The radio station was a financial disaster for seven years. But I stayed focused on not losing my company, and that’s why I moved into the station and did whatever it took. I was willing to let everything go except my son and my business, in that order.

Did you ever think about giving up while sleeping on the floor?

Never, never, never. I was determined that my son and I would build a successful business. I’d tell lenders, “Do you think I’m going to let this fail when I’m sleeping in a sleeping bag, washing up in a public bathroom? I’m giving it my all.”

What was it like raising a son while living in the radio station?

I never saw him as deprived. He graduated from the best high school in D.C., went to UCLA and participated in all the things regular kids do. It wasn’t until I was about 55, when someone said to me “you were homeless,” that it hit me. I was down to 14 employees running a 24/7 business. I was glad we were in the radio station, because sometimes in middle of the night I’d have to get up and do something.

What was the turnaround?

At year 7, my accountant sent me the monthly financial statement, and I said “you forgot to put the brackets in red ink.” I was so focused, I didn’t know I was coming out of the hole.

What has building the company with your son meant to you?

It was my son’s idea to diversify. When he got his MBA from Wharton, he said, “We’re not going to be a mom and son operation anymore. We’re going public.” This all started from being a family, and even as a public corporation, we operate as a family business. Too much of American industry is focused on the bottom line and not enough is focused on the front lines.
Entrepreneur Spotlight

Name: Cathy Hughes
Company: Radio One
Age: 65
Location: Washington, D.C. area
Started: On the air in 1980
Employees: about 1,500
2012 Projected Revenues: $433.5 million
Website: http://www.radio-one.com/