Shea Moisture Founder Richelieu Dennis Wants To Transform Madam C.J. Walker’s Home Into A Training Center For Black Women Entrepreneurs


December 18, 2018

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. 

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