Say the name Steve Jobs and one can conjure his trademark turtleneck, rattle off facts of his life story, and point to several of his inventions in your home. But what comes to mind when you hear the name, John H. Johnson? Can you picture his face? Can you describe his life story and rich legacy as the founder of the Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of the iconic magazines Jet and Ebony? Frankly our national understanding of African American entrepreneurs is limited, despite the value we place on our greatest business minds.
Far too little is known about the rich history of Black entrepreneurship in America, a history that has indeed shaped our country. Filmmaker Stanley Nelson — Director of Black Panther: Vanguard of the Revolution and Tell Them We Are Rising — has created a new documentary for this very reason. Boss: The Black Experience in Business premieres nationwide Tuesday, April 23 at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on PBS and pbs.org.
America is first and foremost an experiment in capitalism. Black people have, of necessity, used our genius and ingenuity to enhance that narrative but our stories are largely hidden. This film brings them to the forefront, chronicling more than 150 years of African American men and women pursuing entrepreneurial greatness. Those stories have extensive range — some entrepreneurs were literally living in bondage and others were known as moguls, sitting atop multimillion-dollar empires. Each story is important and has contributed to our rich history of business, as a people.
In his latest project, Stanley Nelson takes us on an inspiring journey of resilience and resistance within the Black American experience. In the face of overwhelming odds — racial hostility and violence, economic exclusion, segregation and discrimination — Black entrepreneurs have managed to contribute the best and brightest to America. Nelson explores the inspiring stories of trailblazing African American entrepreneurs while spotlighting the significant contributions of contemporary business leaders.
Stories featured in the film include those of entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, publisher John H. Johnson, Motown CEO Berry Gordy, and business pioneer and philanthropist Reginald F. Lewis, among others. The film features new interviews with Vernon Jordan, senior managing director of Lazard, Freres & Co. LLC.; Cathy Hughes, CEO and founder of Urban One; Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox and chairman of VEON; Ken Frazier, chairman, president and CEO of Merck & Co., Inc.; Richelieu Dennis, founder, CEO and executive chairman of Sundial Brands; Robert F. Smith, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Managing Partners, LLC; Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr., CEO of Black Enterprise; and John Rogers, CEO and founder of Ariel Investments. To claim our future promise we must know our past glory. We have always been an entrepreneurial people.
Last week, John H. Johnson’s bold vision for a new kind of representation of the African American community came to a close after 77 historic years. It was a sad chapter to a storied enterprise, and a somber reminder of what is at stake when we lose sight of our own entrepreneurial genius. We are proud, strong and innovative. Tune in on April 23rd at 8pm on PBS (check local listings) to celebrate the brilliance of African American business leadership in Boss: The Black Experience in Business.
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