What I Learned About Myself from a Documentary on Female Entrepreneurs

Clara Villarosa, Founder of Hue-Man Bookstore and Villarosa Media (Credit: Dream, Girl Film)

I moved to New York City in June 2006 as a wide-eyed, fresh-faced college graduate. I had dreamed of living here ever since my childhood visit to the Empire State Building. And as a student of African-American history, I looked at the fact that I was starting my New York life as a Harlem resident as the perfect first chapter.

On my first walk around the neighborhood, I stopped into the Hue-Man Bookstore, then the largest black-owned bookstore in the country. I saw people of all races and ages leafing through pages and having earnest, pleasant conversations with each other. Where Barnes & Noble is a sprawl of books, Hue-Man was Harlem’s reading and meeting room, where I learned as much from my neighbors as I did from anything I bought. It takes vision and commitment to build a business like Hue-Man and I learned how its founder, Clara Villarosa, and other entrepreneurial women, launched their companies in the new documentary Dream, Girl.

Dream, Girl shines a light on a movement that is changing the landscape of American business — the explosion in female entrepreneurship. Women are launching more than 1,200 businesses each day in the United States and in the film, we hear from twelve women about their journeys to becoming founders. When the public typically learns about a new business, we consider it an overnight arrival; we walk past a “Grand Opening!” sign or see a nice write-up in the press. But what does it take to arrive and, more importantly, survive as a business? Despite the differences in their industries, one thread was consistent among the CEOs profiled in this film: determination. And they all certainly needed it.

Still from an animated vignette in the film (Credit: Mighty Oak)

The road to entrepreneurship is designed to be rough for everyone. How will you raise the money you need? How will you convince people to buy what you’re offering? How do you get them to keep coming back? Those questions are hard enough for any would-be founder to tackle. But through Dream, Girl’s narrative, I learned that it has only been 40 years since women could apply for loans or credit without a bank having the right to require a man as a co-signer. I also heard one founder’s story of being ignored in a meeting; she recalled industry peers looking at her, puzzled, then moving on to her male co-founder to shake hands. Taking all this into consideration, I understand what has made the female founder experience uniquely gritty.

Despite such obstacles, Clara, Annie Wang of Senvol, Mariama Camara of Mariama Fashion Production, Joanne Wilson of Gotham Gal Ventures, and countless others remained resilient and confident in the visions they had for their businesses. But as industries change, businesses need to keep pace and visions need to evolve. After ten years in Harlem, Hue-Man closed its doors in 2012 and now only exists online. But Dream, Girl showed that this isn’t the end for Clara who, now at age 80, recently launched Villarosa Media with her two daughters to publish books by African-American authors.

I attended a screening of Dream, Girl at The White House as part of its United State of Women Summit and my attention was locked into these incredible stories. But it’s not because I aspire to be an entrepreneur. I just want to have that much fight in me for anything that I believe in.

As the lights in the room brightened at the end of the screening, I realized that I had been sitting behind the Villarosas the entire time. I thought back to 2006 and the moments at Hue-Man that welcomed me to New York City, conjuring something profound to say to Clara and her daughters. “Thank you,” is the best I could do.

Watch the Dream,Girl trailer here: http://dreamgirlfilm.com/

Villarosa and Dream, Girl Director Erin Bagwell behind the scenes (Credit: Dream, Girl Film)