A Blessing: Women of Color Teaming Up to Lead, Empower and Thrive presents a fresh, bold analysis of African American female leadership. We spoke with authors Jacqueline Adams and Bonita C. Stewart about the inspiration for A Blessing, being the first Black women in their roles, and more!
Please tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and how this story took shape for you.
Despite the social and racial injustice protests that we witnessed in 2020, we started our project in 2018. We knew each other as fellow Harvard Business School alumnae and we respected each other’s professional accomplishments. We had a vision to change the narrative for women of color—to create a substantive and scalable rallying cry around the notion of Teaming Up. As business professionals from tech and media, it seemed natural for us to Team Up and create a new mission driven venture.
We felt that our book should be more than just a memoir. It is, in fact, a mission driven, legacy project. We have crafted a thesis—grounded in original, proprietary data and illuminated by anecdotal examples.
In two sentences or less, what’s something that might surprise Libro.fm listeners about your audiobook?
Our title, A Blessing, requires a bit of explanation. In our careers, we have often been the only person—the only woman—of color in a room. We have been firsts. Bonita was the first African-American female vice president at Google and Jacqueline was the first African-American female correspondent whom CBS News assigned full time to the White House.
Given that we were firsts, we have often been considered “Unicorns”—rare and valuable beings. Just as a group of geese is called a flock of geese, a group of unicorns is called a blessing.
And so, we are.
Have you listened to your own audiobook? If so, what struck you about the narration?
Jackie: It was important to Bonita and me to Team Up with Black women and men in every aspect of the creation of A Blessing. We specifically asked that a Black woman narrate the book. As we hoped, Janina Edwards is a treasure! She reads with understanding! She “gets” our content and our context. Her voice truly has become our voices, but more than that, Janina also did a great job reading Debra Lee’s preface and Kenneth Chenault’s foreword. She is able to differentiate the voices of the various contributors to the book. I am no pushover. I have always had high standards. Janina exceeded my expectations.
Bonita: In Chapter One, “Our Natural Grit,” I heard for the first time my father’s speech entitled, “The Trail to Success,” being recited to me. Now his choice words handwritten over 70 years ago will, hopefully, bring joy and perhaps a teary eye to everyone when they hear his poem and life framework around the four Cs—Character, Concentration, Culture, and Courage.
Are you an audiobook listener? If so, what are some of your favorite audiobooks?
Bonita: Yes, I love audiobooks. It’s always nice to give your eyes a respite and focus on other senses. A few of my favorites I recently completed are Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, Unapologetically Ambitious by Shellye Archambeau. My in-progress audiobooks are Just as I Am—the late Cicely Tyson’s memoir (she reads the introduction like a Queen—The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Think Again by Adam Grant.
What have independent bookstores and/or booksellers meant to you personally and professionally?
Jackie: For nine years (2001-2010), I served on the governing board of the Off-the-Record lecture series, the oldest, largest women’s foreign policy lecture series in the United States. The audience (on average 450-500 members per lecture) was known to be “readers,” and independent booksellers were engaged to sell the books of our many speakers. The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman twice chose to address our audience during the first week of the publication of his books, knowing that he would see a spike in sales as a result. For eight years (2010-2018), I also served on the program committee of the Harvard Club of NYC and again, I worked closely with independent booksellers to ensure that my speakers had the opportunity to sell and autograph their books for our members.
Bonita: In college, I spent my days studying at the Library of Congress surrounded by books. When I reflect on the value of independent bookstores, I think about their importance in the community for the intellectual stimulation of children. Along with over 17,000 public libraries in the United States, independent booksellers offer a private refuge for book discovery with tailored programs offered by these booksellers for the community. Our publisher, Marva Allen, was the co-owner of the Hue-Man Bookstore, the largest independent African-American bookstore, which closed in 2012. Today I consciously seek opportunities to support community bookstores since we eagerly embraced Marva’s pivot to an independent digital platform at Wordeee.com.
Anything else to share with us?
In our effort to Team Up with women of color, we offer anecdotal stories from eight Harvard Business School alumnae as well as data collected from 4,005 American women desk-workers across four races (Black, Latinx, Asian, white) and four generations (Gen Z, Gen X, Millennials, Boomers). We believe that our proprietary research is the first time that women of color in the workplace—in business—have been studied by generation. Our findings led us to coin a new phrase—Generational Diversity—and we challenge leaders to recognize the nuances as they hire and try to retain the newest cohort of employees, specifically people of color, who are entering their workforces.
Header photo by Damani Moyd