Charlotte has a rich history of Black women who have broken barriers in the areas of school desegregation, executive representation in the corporate world and local politics. Meet a new generation of talented Black women who are following their callings and lighting paths for others now and for the future.
Shortly after Dr. Shanté Williams released her book “Black Angels Among Us,” 10 women of color accepted her challenge to step into the angel investment arena. An angel investor provides financial backing for small startup businesses and usually acquires an ownership stake in the company. After a few months, the women began communicating with businesses that were seeking investment money. Notably, all the people making the decisions were Black women who not only had a seat at the table but “they owned that table, the chairs, and had the power,” Williams said.
“That moment for me was a quick glimpse of the fulfillment of what I call my life’s work,” she said. “It reignited the fire in me to keep moving forward and to start securing billions not millions.”
Williams, a Charlotte native, is CEO of Black Pearl Global Investments (BPGI), a venture capital firm that invests in health care companies that deliver quality care to people regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location. The firm is unique in its investment approach as it not only seeks out current funding opportunities but also helps to build a pipeline in both the investment and investor areas to create greater opportunities for underserved communities.
Like many startups, BPGI faced several challenges in the beginning. Raising enough money to invest ($25 million in Williams’ case) and growing the business as a full-time effort was difficult. The lack of female CEOs, especially Black women, in the venture capital investing space makes this even more challenging, she said.
“Visibility became the next challenge,” she said. “We needed to stand out and be respected by peers in the industry internationally. I found my voice and then my megaphone with the support of my business partners and we became visible, relevant, sought after and able to attract dollars.” Although raising money is difficult, knowing that “someone out there believes in you enough to put their money where their mouth is helps push people forward,” Williams said. Helping others achieve their vision is what Williams enjoys most about her work. “Success for me will happen when there are so many successful Black venture capitalists that it is no longer remarkable,” she said.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will continue to be important in all aspects of our lives. That is why it’s imperative that students have a solid educational foundation in STEM classes so they can successfully compete in the global economy. Charlotte native and CharlotteMecklenburg Schools Teacher of the Year finalist, Temeka Truesdale, tries to make science enjoyable every day for her Berryhill School fifth-grade students.
“I make science fun for students by engaging them in hands-on activities along with songs and chants,” Truesdale said. “I try to use items that can be easily found around the home. This way, students can reproduce the activities and engage their families in what we’re learning in class.”
Truesdale, who attended Berryhill School as a child, is a Harding High School and North Carolina A&T State University graduate. She experienced a “defining moment” when she chose to positively impact her students the same way her sixth-grade science teacher, Ms. Davidson, did.
“I chose to become a teacher because of Ms. Davidson,” Truesdale said. “Ms. Davidson was a no-nonsense nurturer,” she added. In middle school Truesdale wasn’t a serious student, but Ms. Davidson challenged her to do better. “Sometimes I felt that Ms. Davidson didn’t like me and wanted to make my sixth-grade life miserable,” Truesdale said. But eventually Truesdale understood that Ms. Davidson was preparing her to succeed. “She only wanted me to work up to my potential,” she said. “She held me accountable to the level I was able to perform and did not accept anything less.”
Now, when Truesdale gets up to go to school, she is full of “excitement and joy” and is determined to inspire other young people who ever questioned whether they were good enough to realize their greatness. “The most rewarding thing about what I do is that I get to expose students to learning that opens their eyes and allows them to see all the wonderful possibilities the world has to offer,” she said.
As CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas (BBBSCC), Donna Dunlap is a living example of the organization’s mission “to create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth.” She became a foster parent to her son when he was released from the hospital at birth. She eventually adopted him. “The day I adopted him, I promised my son that I would do all that I could to help him be the best he could,” said Dunlap, who was born in Charlotte and raised in Connecticut. “I saw his progress and the impact of nature versus nurture. Dunlap decided that working with Big Brothers Big Sisters was a way to help many more children. “My mom was a Big Sister, so the connection made it an obvious must do.”
When she returned to Charlotte in 2009, Dunlap was excited about the opportunity to serve as CEO of BBBSCC because she has always wanted to help children in poverty.
“I sincerely feel that mentoring young people empowers them to realize their full potential,” Dunlap said. “The added support and direction our volunteers give, combined with our agency resources, is helping to break the cycle of generational poverty — one child at a time.”
The importance of having a woman of color lead such an organization is not lost on Dunlap. Most of the families that BBBSCC serves are people of color. Dunlap speaks to the children like a loving parent or aunt and holds them accountable as if they are her own, she said. She also helps parents and guardians navigate systems that they may not understand to help them better advocate for their children. She also interacts with them like a caring counselor and friend.
“As a woman of color there are many advantages and challenges to being the CEO of BBBSCC,” she said. “I have a high level of passion and commitment to doing all I can to support these children. I feel it is my responsibility as a woman of color to do all I can to help these children in an impactful way.”
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