Photo credit: Arturo Olmos
After Richelieu Dennis, the co-founder of Sundial Brands (makers of brands such as Shea Moisture and Nubian Heritage) bought Essence Magazine to make it 100% Black-owned again, he announced a $100 million fund for women of color entrepreneurs because he believes “Black women need access, support, expertise and capital.”
Now, to take it one step further, the Essence Ventures CEO wants to help train Black women entrepreneurs – and what better place to do it than where a pioneering Black woman entrepreneur once lived? Turns out, Dennis purchased Madam C.J. Walker’s 34-room mansion, Villa Lewaro, in Irvington, New York. The historic estate was designed by Black architect Vertner Woodson Tandy and often used as a meeting place for the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance. Dennis now wants it to be a meeting place for Black women entrepreneurs, more specifically a retreat and training center “designed to support Black women entrepreneurs in their efforts to turn their ideas into flourishing enterprises,” reports the Hudson Independent.
According to the newspaper, “Irvington has only just passed a new zoning law that permits adaptive reuse of registered historical buildings for non-residential purposes, including schools, tours and certain kinds of events.”
Dennis took this as an opportunity to present Irvington’s board of trustees with his plans for Villa Lewaro. The public meeting was held on Monday. The Hudson Independent also reported:
“While using Villa Lewaro as a museum is one of Mr. Dennis’ options, the entrepreneurial center concept better meshes with his ongoing commitment to promote African American women’s business opportunities and a logical extension of his business… last year, he launched the New Voices Fund, seeding it with $100 million to support Black women entrepreneurs through training, mentorship and networking. Other supporters include Chase Bank, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Harvard and Amos Tuck graduate business schools and Babson College, from which Dennis graduated. Villa Lewaro would seem a natural venue for New Voices development programs.”
This marks Dennis’ second investment into upholding Walker’s legacy, as in 2016 Sundial Brands paid homage to the beauty pioneer by launching a line of hair products called Madam C.J. Walker Beauty and Culture.
He explained, “The story means so much to so many. And I felt it wasn’t right that the most relevant and cultural icon of beauty and the beauty business, and the representation of what beauty means to our community, was not represented in the same way as Estée Lauder and Coco Chanel. It’s not like we don’t have that (Walker) legacy to look up to.”
We salute you Rich for using your platform to preserve the legacy of America’s first woman self-made millionaire and cultivate present and future Black women entrepreneurs.