Winning Essay by Nikeerra B., Troy University
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One African-American that has and continues to inspire me is Katherine Johnson. While not exactly a household name, Johnson was a pioneer for both African-Americans and women. For example, she was one of the first African-Americans to be integrated into the graduate program at West Virginia University (Katherine Johnson, 2018). As one of only three black graduate students to be used to test integration at the university, she faced discrimination and harassment, and yet, she persevered. However, while she had the ability to complete the program, like many women, her career dreams were put on hold while she started a family. On the other hand, unlike many women of her era, she returned to school to finish her degree and to start a career at NASA as a mathematician for the space program (Katherine Johnson, 2018). At NASA she developed a professional reputation that shone bright enough to be seen through the sexual and racial discrimination that still existed at the agency. What she became most known for was that the astronauts trusted Johnson’s calculations more so than those offered by the IBM computers (Katherine Johnson, 2018).

As an African-American woman, I understand how hard it can be to be taken seriously as a scholar and as a business professional. For example, I am an aspiring social entrepreneur, and it is my dream to own and operate a homeless shelter after graduating from nursing school. While preparing the start-up documents and investigating my financing options for this dream I stumbled upon a harsh reality, that women in social enterprises not only are underrepresented in top leadership positions, but that those few women who make it to the top earn 29% less than male social entrepreneur CEOs (Estin, Stephan, & Vujic, 2015). This disparity needs to be corrected in my lifetime and through my efforts. I plan to follow in Johnson’s footsteps and to lead by example to topple barriers to success for African-American women. This means that I will face discrimination and I will need to fight for equality. While this will be uncomfortable and exhausting at times, it is a fight worth my effort.

While my dream to be a nurse social entrepreneur may not launch humanity into space like Johnson’s work, my career will still be monumental. I intend to forge new paths for African- American women in social entrepreneurship, to fight for equal respect and pay for women, and to create a new homeless shelter model that is therapeutic and rehabilitative, as well as provides for the immediate needs of the homeless. Through my efforts, future social entrepreneurs, nurses, and people in the helping professions will find guidance on how to innovate solutions to society’s problems. In fifty years, it is my dream that other young African-American women will be writing about me as their inspiration for success.

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