Lauren Petersen is the Senior Director of Relationship Management at TechPoint. She was an OPTIONS Class 16 participant and is currently a member of Women’s Fund Engagement Committee Member.

On April 29, more than 30 Women’s Fund staff, OPTIONS Alumnae and Sage Society members gathered virtually with Joyce Rogers, Chairwoman of the Board for the Madam C.J. Walker Legacy Center for a behind-the-scenes look at one of Indiana’s most notable female entrepreneurs and philanthropists, Madam C. J. Walker. The fascinating conversation uncovered the realities brought to life in the 2020 Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madame C.J. Walker Netflix mini-series. The series affirmed her role as an Indianapolis civic leader and highlighted the relevant work of the Madam C. J. Walker Legacy Center.

Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

“What captivated me the most about Self Made was Madame Walker’s commitment to empowering other women to be financially successful. One of the most important commitments Women’s Fund has through our grantmaking is helping women become financially secure for their lifetime.” – Jennifer Pope Baker, Women’s Fund Executive Director

Most Hoosiers know Madam C.J. Walker as the first self-made, African American, female millionaire and beauty mogul. The series illustrated her determination as a daughter of slaves breaking down barriers for women during a difficult time in our world. Equally important about her life was her legacy to empower other women, as she would often instill: “Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” Remarkably, many women employed by Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company selling beauty and haircare products, made more income than the average white man at the time. The movie also illustrated how the products helped African American females in the early 1900’s embrace pride in their identity and natural beauty.

The mini-series also illustrated several relational dynamics with her daughter, husband, business partners (and rivals), and community leaders like Booker T. Washington. Though she might have been described as determined or demanding, she was a woman with a vision. Overall, Joyce Rogers shared with the group there weren’t a lot of major embellishments in the series.

Madam C. J. Walker’s Civic Leadership

Madam C. J. Walker founded her business in 1910, in Indianapolis, when the Midwest was appealing from a production and sales standpoint. Indiana Avenue, during its heyday, was described as the Black Wall Street and the Indianapolis Harlem, internationally known as the black music Mecca and regional center of black commerce and entrepreneurship. She placed roots in Ransom Place, one of the largest African American communities in Indiana at its time. A true philanthropist, Madam C. J. Walker was known to donate to businesses across the community, most notably for helping to raise funds for the first black branch of the YMCA and launching the funding for the Madam C. J. Walker Building and Theatre. She envisioned the theatre as a safe haven for the city’s black community. The building opened eight years after her death in 1927.

A Rebirth of Madam C. J. Walker Legacy Center

In the 1950’s, Indianapolis was working to boost its downtown economy and acquired the land surrounding Indiana Avenue through eminent domain for interstate development and later for the growth of a downtown Indiana University campus. With the encroachment of Indiana Avenue, and a loss of much of its rich identity, came a lot of pain for what quickly became a struggling neighborhood. In partnership with Indiana Avenue and Indiana University, The Madam C. J. Walker Legacy Center is focused on moving the community beyond something that was disappointing to hundreds of families, to thinking about the future, building trust, and restoring vibrancy.

This year marks 101 years since Madam’s passing. There remains a strong physical presence in, and for, Indianapolis with the renaissance of the legacy center, which recently underwent considerable reconstruction. To learn more about the Madam C. J. Walker Legacy Center and its future programming (including a STEAM camp, financial literacy courses and jazz events) please visit: