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Celebrating Black beauty pioneers

February 21, 2022

One represents the past, the other the future

In celebration of Black History Month, Northwood University celebrates two Black beauty product pioneers, with one representing the past, and one representing the future.

Madame C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove; Dec. 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919) was a Black entrepreneur who developed a line of cosmetics and hair care products for Black women. Her company, Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, was so very successful that history records Madam C.J. Walker as the first self-made female millionaire in America.

Sarah Breedlove was born in Louisiana. She had five siblings. Her older siblings were enslaved. Sarah was the first child in her family to be born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation. At age 7, Sarah was orphaned and raised by an older sister. Sarah would adopt the name Madam C.J. Walker after her marriage to Charles Joseph Walker. History finds that many successful entrepreneurs leverage creativity and innovation to overcome hardship and solve problems. Madam C.J. Walker suffered from dandruff, scalp problems, and baldness. These hair and scalp-related problems would serve as the inspiration for the development of her unique line of hair care products designed to better meet the unique needs of Black Americans.

Madam C.J. Walker faced seemingly insurmountable odds in her early years, but through sheer grit and determination, she was able to overcome all obstacles and rise to a level of success that was truly astonishing — and it paved the way for future female entrepreneurs like Camara MacKey.


Camara MacKey

Northwood University is proud to honor Camara MacKey, a Black student and entrepreneur from Chicago, Illinois. She is currently a senior majoring in marketing with a minor in management. Camara, like Madam C.J. Walker, saw a need for hair care products designed specifically to meet the unique needs of people of color. Camara launched her business, Tropical Secrets, when she was just 17 years old.

Camara observed that many women of color felt pressure to adopt European hairstyles that were not natural and resulted in damage to their hair and scalp. Tropical Secrets is Camara’s vision to bring the natural beauty of her hair, and the hair of other women of color, to the forefront, and free women of color from the pressure of adopting hairstyles that are not healthy for them.

Camara’s vision for Tropical Secrets goes far beyond the selling of products. Camara’s faith inspires her to give back. She hopes to drive Tropical Secrets to such a level of success that the company will be able to help other entrepreneurs of color launch their businesses. For Camara, Tropical Secrets is an innovative force for positive change. Camara loves being an entrepreneur because it gives her the freedom to express her individuality and provides her with an outlet for her creative genius.


John Gustincic is the director of the Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity and Enterprise. He can be reached at .

I am most proud of Camara for her grit and perseverance. Many young entrepreneurs who are faced with setbacks and the challenges of building a business give up. Camara will not quit. Camara will be successful, and her success will benefit all women of color, and society as whole. Camara continues a strong entrepreneurial tradition at Northwood with 34% of our graduates owning all or part of their own business. Northwood University is proud of Camara, and we are excited for her future as a Black beauty pioneer.

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