Whether they have always known what they wanted or came to their vocations over time, the 30 women profiled in “Inspiration: Profiles of Black Women Changing Our World,” have something in common, besides race.
“The foundation for all of these women in some way, shape or form helped support their work. They came to the realization that to succeed that it was going to require a great deal of hard work,” said Crystal McCrary, the book’s author and an entertainment lawyer who left the profession to become a full-time writer.
The coffee-table book features powerful photos taken by noted portrait photographer and photojournalist Lauri Lyons and first-person interviews conducted by McCrary. Profiles include First Lady Michelle Obama, actresses Ruby Dee and Keke Palmer, singer Mary J. Blige and finance expert Mellody Hobson and women who may not quite be household names but are forces to be reckoned with in their fields, including: Nicole Avant, U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas, Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem and Misty Copeland, a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, one of the few black women to dance with a majority, traditional ballet company.
The difficulty in putting the book together, McCrary told BlackAmericaWeb.com, was in narrowing down the group to 30 women.
“But you and I know there are millions and millions of black women who are inspiring.”
McCrary said among her criteria was that the book be multigenerational, appealing to multiple age groups. Her selections ranged from the 18-year-old Palmer, a rising star in the movie industry, to Dee who will be 90 in October and who is still working as an actress.
The women had to represent a wide array of fields, from entertainers and athletes including Mary J. Blige, Venus Williams and Patti Labelle to civil and human rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, businesswoman Janice Bryant Howroyd, artist Betye Saar and television producer Shonda Rhimes.
McCrary also wanted professional women who were not as well known, including Golden, Copeland, environmentalist Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx and the Majora Carter Group, a green economic consulting group, and Patricia Bath, an ophthalmologist and co-founder of the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.
The book was intended, McCrary said, “to combat some of the major stereotypes and images that cater to the lowest common denominator.
“I also wanted to do a piece of work that could in some small way serve as a roadmap for young girls.”
McCrary’s own story could be a guide for those who feel trapped or limited in their career choices.
Even before she got her law degree, McCrary said she realized entertainment law probably wouldn’t be a permanent career.
She completed her degree and got a job with a major firm and said she was glad she stuck with law school and got her degree, but that she had the benefit of living in a “different era” when it was easier to change careers in some ways.
Today, she said, “there are vast possibilities in one way, but fewer because we live in such a globally competitive society now. It’s not easy to transition but you do have to stand firm in your passion.
“Passion and hard work and strategy and knowing your worth,” will always serve a woman well.
There will be potholes along the road, including some created by people who love you, care about your welfare and want to protect you from disappointment or failure, but the women who succeeded stayed true to their dreams, McCrary said.
She said Gayle King told her that when she wanted to become a television reporter and personality, her mother’s response was, “Oh, honey, maybe you should for something behind the camera.”
It wasn’t that King’s mother doubted her daughter’s talent; she just didn’t trust that the powers that be would put King on the air.
Debra Martin Chase was a career change lawyer who decided she wanted to become a film producer. She figured out what she needed to do/know to get to the next step and she was always prepared.
She became an Academy Award and Emmy nominated producer, ran Denzel Washington’s production company, Mundy Lane Entertainment, where their first movie was “Devil in a Blue Dress.” She won a major 10-year deal with Disney and her more celebrated films included, “The Princess Diaries” and “The Cheetah Girls.” She also was the late Whitney Houston’s co-producer for “Sparkle.”
“I applaud anyone who has the courage and the strength to do what they love,” McCrary said, “to do despite the odds that are seemingly stacked against them.”