Take courage from the past to meet current challenges

As the director for Mayor Michael B. Coleman’s Equal Business Opportunity Office, I am responsible for the implementation of the city’s minority and women business program.

Minority, women business owners hold a special place in my heart. There are many attributes that are required to be a business owner — but it is impossible for the “faint of heart” to be successful.

The business owners that I engage with have the skills necessary to sustain a business. These attributes include the ability to work hard (all the time), to focus, keep abreast of industry trends (and competitors), develop a specialty and make enough money to pay the bills (most of the time).

Not for the faint of heart

These skills are admirable, but the attribute I most admire is courage.

In the words of Maya Angelou: “Courage is the most important of all virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

If courage were not required to own a business everyone would. It takes courage to:

  • Walk away from a job.
  • Keep talking about a “great idea” despite the rolling eyes of friends.
  • Go to family for startup funds.
  • Deplete your savings (or last check) to get started.
  • Stay in business when it gets tough — and it will.

Amazingly, minority and women business owners do succeed. They provide for their families and employ others. They serve as role models for future entrepreneurs.

Beneficiaries of those who came before

My grandmother, Cassteller Shopshire, began a business in the early 1940s. Recently divorced with two children and tired of working as a domestic servant, she was determined to find another way.

Granny began to “take in sewing” in her home. Her hours were long and the work was tedious, but she treated it as a profession. She proudly presented herself as a seamstress and demanded that her “garments” were indicative of that. They all carried a customized “made by” label.

She maintained her business for over 40 years. Granny stopped when she could no longer do intricate work, which was her trademark.

Much of my passion for small business owners derives from witnessing her work. The memory of the sound of her Singer sewing machine purring well into the night, her attention to client’s tastes and her constant studying of new patterns and fabrics all fuel me.

Admittedly, I was older when I began to appreciate her courage. Granny did not drive; she walked carrying her sewing bag and looking directly ahead. She appeared to be easy prey, but stray dogs would not approach her.

I knew she did not scare easily, but owning a business, requiring her mostly white wealthy clients to come to her home, not having a regular paycheck and refusing to take “regular” jobs — that is courage.

Granny is not different from the countless women and minority business owners in our community. We are the fortunate beneficiaries of their tenacity and courage. Their works serve as an example of our best. I hope they know that.


Melinda Carter is the Director of Equal Business Opportunity Office, city of Columbus. The EBO seeks to promote the inclusiveness of minority and women-owned businesses within the city’s procurement process and to facilitate the equitable awarding of contracts to minority and women-owned business enterprises via race and gender neutral tools.