Being the only one, or one of a few, Black women in a professional environment can be a daunting experience. Whether it’s dealing with microaggressions or flat out discrimination, working in a space where someone like you has never been before or being on the outside hoping you can find a way in, the road to success for Black women can be a difficult one. Still, the following trailblazers demonstrate that nothing is insurmountable. From a whiskey maker whose brand honors a formerly enslaved Black man to the first full-year African-American, female NFL coach, these women know there are many issues that need to be addressed to combat systemic racism in their fields, and they’re ready to face them head-on.
CEO, Co-Founder and Co-Owner, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
Serial entrepreneur, investor, and best-selling author Fawn Weaver became immediately intrigued by the story of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the formerly enslaved Black man who taught the Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. “Being an African-American woman, I had never come across a well-known American brand that anyone had ever truly connected to an African-American being there at the beginning.” So intrigued was Weaver by the story of Nearest Green, who many refer to as the godfather of Tennessee whiskey, she decided to go to Nearest’s home of Lynchburg, TN for her birthday with her husband, to learn more about the man. That was over four years ago. “I decided to come to Lynchburg because there was no way in the world I would be able to really tell a comprehensive story on this man. We planned to be here for four days. I’ve never left!”
Weaver went on an extensive fact-find mission that involved hours of research, discovering artifacts, and interviewing the decedents of both Nearest Green and Jack Daniel. So dedicated was Weaver to telling the story of Nearest Green, that when one of his descendants suggested a way to honor him would be to put his name on a bottle, she agreed to do it herself despite having no prior whiskey-making experience. But however difficult it would be for an African-American woman to create an independent whiskey brand meant to honor a formerly enslaved Black man in an industry that is predominantly white and male, Weaver never gave it a second thought. “I would walk into a room with a bunch of CEOs of major brands and I would talk as if I’d been in this industry for 20 years. I would act like I was as big as them. I paid zero attention to any reception that was not 100% positive.” And she’s had every right to do so. Although still in its infancy, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is already one of the fastest-growing independent whiskey brands and is available in upwards of 4,000 locations across the world. Cheers to Uncle Nearest!
Sous Chef Aretah Ettarh
Sous Chef, Gramercy Tavern
As a child, Sous Chef Aretah Ettarh always had a love of food. But when you come from a family where just about everyone’s in academia, establishing a career in the culinary arts may not immediately occur to you. “I’m West African, I’m Nigerian, so there are two paths. Everyone says you should be an accountant or a doctor.” It wasn’t until much later when Sous Chef Ettarh was taking an introductory cooking class her freshman year as a Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management major that her love of food and her career path collided. “I just remember making mac and cheese from scratch for the first time and I was like, ‘that’s awesome!’” From there, her path set, Sous Chef Ettarh went on to further her studies at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. She then later worked at the acclaimed two-Michelin-star restaurant Jean-Georges as a line cook and is currently a sous chef at popular one-Michelin-star restaurant Gramercy Tavern, where she manages upwards of 50 cooks. Sous Chef Ettarh was thriving tremendously, but then COVID-19 happened.
Practically overnight, the entire restaurant industry came to a near grinding halt. The U.S. also experienced a racial reckoning ignited by the death of George Floyd. After everything that’s occurred, Sous Chef Ettarh doesn’t want to go back to business as usual. “This is a perfect opportunity to really think about what is important because this whole situation is proving anything can go in an instant.” She’s also hoping for a change in whose voices get amplified in the greater food space. “What I’m hoping for is a shift in culture and a shift in restaurant culture to not overvalue the experience of the straight, white man and just valuing the experiences and knowledge of everyone because I feel like once we start shifting towards that kind of culture, then the diversity will come.”
Coach Jazmine Smith
Founder and Head Coach, Eyekonz Field Hockey and Lacrosse
As a young child in Radnor, Pennsylvania, Coach Jazmine Smith (or Coach Jaz as she’s affectionately called by her players) was introduced to field hockey by her maternal grandmother at the age of seven. Although familiar with the sport, she wasn’t initially sold on the idea. But her grandmother had another plan in mind. “My grandmother, ironically, had no idea what field hockey was, but she knew it was going to change the trajectory of my life,” says Coach Jaz. So, she took a leap of faith, and came to love the sport. Soon lacrosse followed and from elementary school up until she graduated from high school, Coach Jaz dedicated herself to the two sports she enjoyed.
But not everything was always perfect. As a young Black woman playing two sports that are overwhelmingly white and who often times was the only Black player on the field, Coach Jaz endured some painful moments. “I would be taunted for my skin complexion and my features, and it just made it really difficult… I had to learn at an early age that race does matter.” And although Coach Jaz ultimately decided to play basketball in college, she never lost her love for field hockey and lacrosse. That’s why, in 2002, Coach Jaz started Eyekonz Field Hockey and Lacrosse, a sporting foundation that enables Black and Latinx players ages between the ages of five and 18 the chance to play both sports. “Seeing them dominate at a sport they were at first reluctant to play, and then they can’t wait to get out there, really warms my heart.”
Colonel Nia Robinson Middleton, M.D.
Chief Women’s Health, Winn Army Community Hospital
Although Colonel (COL) Nia Robinson Middleton, M.D. always knew she wanted to be a doctor, she never thought her journey to becoming one would also lead her to join the military. “I just never would have imagined that this is where I would be in terms of having a career in the military… I didn’t do ROTC in high school and I wasn’t a huge athlete or anything, so it was a little bit of a culture shock to go to college and be in ROTC.” But after adjusting to the rigors of military life, COL Robinson Middleton, M.D. decided to stay the dual course she’s been on to this day where she is now an OB/GYN. “I’ve always been very interested in women’s health. When I went into medical school, I pretty much knew I wanted to do gynecology and then continue with that as I moved into residency.”
Many years into her career as an OB/GYN doctor, COL Robinson Middleton, M.D.’s passion for caring for women is what keeps her going and drives her to ensure all of her patients, no matter their background, receive the same excellent level of care. At a time when there is a national conversation about healthcare disparities expecting mothers and their newborns (especially those of color) face, this is especially important. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to say, ‘hey, it’s a fact, it’s an issue, we know it, remember it!’ I would hate to think that me, or my sister, or my mom, or my friends are treated any differently or would have different outcomes because of the color of our skin.” And given that COL Robinson Middleton, M.D. cares for those who serve our nation and their families, she takes this responsibility especially seriously. “I love taking care of service members and their families! It definitely is a special group of people. You’re dealing with deployments or training exercises that take service members away from their families. So, in some ways, we’re their extended family and support system. I’m very thankful for that opportunity to help take care of soldiers and their families.”
Winemaker and Owner, Aslina Wine Company
For Ntsiki Biyela, setting out to be South Africa’s first Black, female winemaker was never a goal of hers. Neither was becoming a winemaker. “I got a scholarship to study winemaking. It wasn’t something I was interested in.” But what did catch the former domestic worker’s interest was the opportunity the scholarship presented to her. “For me, it was a matter of changing my life.”
Soon Biyela was working in the vineyards and the wine cellar at Delheim Wines under the mentorship of famed winemaker Philip Costandius. And even though there were language barriers between the two, it didn’t hinder their exchange of information and passion for their work. Biyela’s enthusiasm for her newfound craft grew. Unfortunately for her, the narrow minds of those around her who questioned her talent as a winemaker didn’t. Patrons of the winery she worked at would be in shock when they discovered the wines they were enjoying were made by a Black woman. Once when inquiring about an open position at a winery, she was told they were only looking for men. “People definitely doubted me,” she said. But however hurtful those moments were, Biyela never let them deter her from owning a wine company. “It was just a matter of me saying to myself, ‘It’s okay! This is what I want to do and I’m going to do it.’” And it was with this determination that Biyela started Aslina, her wine company named after her beloved grandmother who raised her. “When you start something, don’t open windows. Look at that only, and give it everything you’ve got, and make it a success!” And with four different beloved wines under her label, Biyela has done just that.
Coach Jennifer King
NFL Offensive Assistant Coach
Football has always been a constant in Coach Jennifer King’s life. Growing up, her and her family would attend high school football games in her hometown of Reidsville, North Carolina. But while sitting in the stands and cheering on the players, coaching was never on her mind. “When I was at the games, I wanted to play! I wanted to be out there playing!” Later on, as an adult, she achieved her goal by playing in the WFA and IWFL, where she would go on to win a championship. After retiring from playing the sport, Coach King, in addition to her other professional exploits, decided to share her deep knowledge and expertise of the game by becoming a volunteer football coach to a number of organizations, including a middle school. “I was doing a lot at the time, but I still made it work because to be out there… that was cool. It was a good opportunity for me.”
While Coach King was donating her time to help young players improve their skills, she was also coaching a women’s college basketball team, whose facility just so happened to be near the Carolina Panthers’ facility. “My office was literally 30 yards from their practice field, so I started getting that bug. I would watch practice through the fence and see what they had going on.” And so, one day she decided to be a part of the action instead of just watching it. Through an NFL connection, Coach King got invited to an NFL women’s coaching forum where she met then Carolina Panthers’ Coach Ron Rivera. From there, she got invited to multiple training sessions by the coach. And when Coach Rivera became the new head coach for Washington’s NFL team, he offered her a coaching position, making Coach King the first full-year African-American, female NFL coach. “I went in with the right attitude. I went there to learn, but I also went in to bring something to the table. I was serious and I wasn’t there just to be there. That’s something that caught Coach Rivera’s eye.”
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io
This commenting section is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page. You may be able to find more information on their web site.