“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub… from there I was promoted to the cook kitchen… and from there, I promoted myself!” (1912) Madam C. J. Walker— noted African-American entrepreneur, philanthropist, and social activist.
Earlier this spring, students from Oakland Meadow School researched influential, African-American public figures and their contributions to society for a special schoolwide project.
Kathleen Pelletier’s K-2 students in the Medically Fragile Program chose to research the inspiring life of Madam C. J. Walker. The students worked with their classroom teacher and the school’s media clerk to research and complete a booklet and multi-sensory display.
Through their research, the children learned that Madam Walker-- born Sarah Breedlove on a Louisiana plantation in 1867-- was a self-educated woman who turned her own line of beauty and hair products for African-American women into an entrepreneurial empire. The country’s first self-made female millionaire, Madam Walker was one of the most successful African-American businesspeople of the day and she helped many other women gain financial independence through employment. She donated much of her fortune to further causes in which she believed, such as civil rights and education.
That legacy is alive today in A’Lelia Bundles, the great-great-granddaughter of Madam Walker and an author and journalist who speaks and writes about her family. (Her great-grandmother, A’Lelia Walker, was an icon of the Harlem Renaissance.)
Ms. Pelletier says technology helped the children take their research of Madam Walker one step further as they made real-life connections to history. Using PixWriter, a program that helps the children communicate via picture symbols, the students invited Ms. Bundles to speak to the class via Skype.
Both the students and their teachers were excited about having a special guest with a personal connection to their research, and Ms. Bundles did not disappoint with compelling stories about her famous ancestors.
“It was fun to see our guest on the big screen,” says Jessy, a 2nd grader. “I liked talking to Ms. Bundles and asking questions about Madam C.J. Walker."
Teacher Caitlen Green says the Skype session was a treat for both staff and students as Ms. Bundles spoke about her great-great-grandmother's journey, and the impact she made on her community and future generations of young girls.
“She was so inspiring for our students and our staff,” says Sara Clifford, Oakland Meadow’s principal. And Ms. Clifford believes the feeling was mutual. “Based on Ms. Bundles’ feedback, I think our students truly inspired her!”