An Open Letter to My Daughters

What It Means to Be Women of Power

Earl "Butch" Graves Jr., President & CEO of Black Enterprise

Dear Erika and Kristin:

I must confess that I burst with pride now that you’ve grown into intelligent, beautiful young women who have graduated from college and launched careers as educators. As both of you embark on the next leg of life’s journey, let me offer some fatherly advice. Now is the time for you to take those critical steps to develop into women of power.

African American women have come a long way since both of you entered this world 22 years ago. Today, Ursula Burns represents one of the most powerful executives in global business as chairman and CEO of Xerox Corp. Janice Bryant Howroyd, CEO of Act-1 Group, operates a thriving BE 100s company that grosses more than $1 billion in annual revenues. Ruth Simmons rose to become president of Brown University and gained recognition as the nation’s best college administrator. And in her role as first lady, Michelle Obama, a Princeton undergrad and Harvard Law School graduate, serves as chief adviser to the president as well as the most prominent woman on the planet.

Both of you are fortunate that you need not look beyond our family for role models; I can think of no better examples of women of power than your grandmother, mother, and aunt. I am so proud you’ve chosen to begin your professional lives as teachers, following in Gramma’s footsteps. However, Mom displayed so many other qualities worthy of emulation: selfless dedication to family and business; unwavering support to Poppa as a true partner in working to realize their shared dreams; and a relentless drive to uplift the less fortunate. Your mother, too, represents this grand tradition. Her belief in education led her to an M.B.A. from one of the nation’s most prestigious business schools. And although she decided to devote much of her life to the care and development of you and your brothers, she used her business acumen to impact fundraising and philanthropic efforts, helping the disadvantaged gain access to quality education.

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