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Madam CJ Walker Was Self-made, Right Down the Street by Kyle Hannon

Greetings, AEA365 readers! Liz DiLuzio here, Lead Curator of the blog. Registration for this year’s conference is officially open, and our local hosts at the Indiana Evaluation Association (IEA) are working with the AEA team to ensure our time in lovely Indianapolis is a fulfilling one. This week’s posts feature the voices of IEA’s members. Happy reading!

I grew up in Indianapolis, lived in Indianapolis, and worked in Indianapolis for many years. I probably drove past the Walker Theater 1,000 times. I kind of knew it meant something important about history, Black history in particular, but I never stopped to learn. In my defense, the Internet wasn’t a thing yet.

I’m Kyle Hannon from Filibuster Press—a community development and book publishing consultancy based in Bloomington, Indiana.

Attendees of the AEA convention will be meeting less than a mile from the Madame CJ Walker Theater, the landmark I ignored for so many years. That theater is a remnant of a remarkable woman who evaluated the need for a new hair product for Black women. She became a successful entrepreneur at a time (more than now) when the cards were stacked against women, especially Black women. By evaluating products and markets, she became the first Black, woman millionaire. And she started her empire right there in Indianapolis, where you will be staying for the convention.

Madam Walker is receiving attention now. A Netflix show, Self-Made, is “inspired by” the story of her rise from doing people’s laundry to running a factory and achieving success. The non-fiction book that inspired the docudrama is On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker, written by A’Leila Bundles. A’Leila is the great-great-granddaughter of Madam Walker. (She is a fascinating person of her own.)

In another demonstration of the pinnacle of public attention, Mattel doll in honor of Madam Walker.

I wish Madam Walker had been around to see her Barbie likeness and Netflix series. That is a level of prominence most people will never achieve. And I hope AEA attendees have an opportunity to appreciate Madam Walker and the other rich African-American culture and history in Indianapolis.

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We’re looking forward to the Evaluation 2023 conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to contribute to AEA365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to AEA365@eval.org. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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