When Steven Rogers was a graduate student at Harvard Business School (HBS), he couldn’t help but notice how little he was learning about black leaders in the business world. Now a senior lecturer on entrepreneurial finance at HBS, Rogers is working to change that with the course he’s now teaching, “Black Business Leaders and Entrepreneurship.”
The course has already brought some big-name entrepreneurs to speak to Rogers’ students.
“It came about to address what I feel was an unintentional exclusion of black protagonists,” Rogers says. “When I was a student, we had 300 case studies our first year, and only one of those had an African-American protagonist.” Since returning to teach, Rogers has combed case studies and found blacks were represented in about 70 cases out of 10,000. “So now it’s 30 years since I was a student, and the situation is basically the same. I don’t feel it was an act of commission, more one of omission: People just didn’t think too much about it.”
Rogers says that black entrepreneurs are the “hidden figures” of the business world. “Even during slavery, you had people like James Forten, a slave whose owner allowed him to start a company making sails for ships. He created his own company and bought freedom for his family. After slavery, blacks found that entrepreneurship was an important tool, a means by which they could seek wealth. After the Civil War, the collective wealth of the black business community was today’s equivalent of $50 million.”
Currently, Rogers says, the black community is seeing a similar boom in entrepreneurship — in large part due to a change in attitude about running one’s own business. “The younger generation has embraced the philosophy that if you want success, you can be your own boss. And that’s different than 30 years ago, when it wasn’t always considered cool. Especially in the black community, there was a sense of ‘Why not just take a great job when we finally have these opportunities?’ But now you’re seeing more positive role models, on television and other media.”
SOURCE: Brett Milano