In honor of Black History Month, we at FFA are shining a light on four founders from our community, who inspire us with their insight, tenacity and leadership. They are Akilah Releford, Founder and CEO of Mary Louise Cosmetics, Ashlee Wisdom, Founder and CEO of Health in Her HUE, Sandra K Johnson, Founder, CEO & CTO of Global Mobile Finance Inc., and last but not least, Farah Allen, Founder and CEO of The Labz.
We asked them who they look up to, what they tell themselves when they face challenges as well as their proudest moments. Read on to learn what makes these women soar!
Who is your role model?
Akilah: “I have so many role models in the business space that I look up to, but my personal is Sara Blakley. Her story is amazing and as a founder who is bootstrapping her company, she continues to be a source of inspiration for me.”
Ashlee: “My grandmother, Albetha Bastian as the one who inspires her most. I have been reflecting a lot lately on her story of moving from her native country, Jamaica, to move to two new countries alone (first the Bahamas and then the United States). Her courage to risk it all to build a better life for her family is something that I’m leaning on a lot when fear tries to creep in. I think about how much she sacrificed and worked hard to create a better life for her children and younger siblings. Whenever I see or speak to her, I’m reminded that because of her courage, I now have the opportunities I have, and that gives me the courage and motivation I often need for this founder journey.”
Sandra: “My mother is my role model. At the age of 26 was widowed with 3 children and 3 months pregnant with a 4th child. (My father was killed by a drunk driver). She raised us as a single mother. I’ve always thought if she could do that, there is nothing I can’t do.”
Farah: Alex Batdorf. She is my ‘Get S**** Done’ muse. From Alex, I have learned to have more conversations with myself about getting out of my own way.
We know that the entrepreneurial journey is never a smooth one. Founders often need to approach their journey with grit and resilience, which are also key for business success. So we asked these founders how they stay motivated when facing challenges, and below is what they shared.
Sandra’s mantra is: “Don’t focus so much on the closed door in front of you. Look around to see the open windows or the back door.” For Farah, her mantra focuses on growth. “Challenges equal growth, so lean in,” she said.
Lastly, we wanted to know what each of them was proudest about when it comes to their founder journeys:
Akilah: “Last year in 2020 at the peak of the social justice movement (June), everyone shouted out Mary Louise as their favorite black owned brand online. It was such a powerful moment and motivated me to keep growing the business.”
Ashlee: “The proudest moment of my founder journey was securing a sizable grant from Johnson & Johnson to keep the company going as I was ramping up on fundraising. I was really proud of that moment, because it was a win that gave me the confidence I needed in that moment that I have what it takes to grow Health In Her HUE.”
Farah: “After a speaking engagement, an older black woman came to me and said that she marched with Dr. King and was arrested many times fighting for equality. She also mentioned that she often times did not know if she made that much difference, but seeing me on stage that day made her truly feel that it was all worth it. This was the biggest complaint anyone has ever given me. I instantly felt the baton being passed and a new sense of purpose.”