Stephanie Poplar launched her nonprofit formation and public relations business four years ago, seeking the autonomy entrepreneurship offers.

“I knew I wanted to go into business for myself because I wanted the freedom and flexibility,” she said.

Like other Black female business owners, however, she faced a multitude of challenges—navigating the natural learning curve, having to prove her credibility and capabilities to skeptical clients and the perennial obstacle, lack of capital.

“There were times when I was a business owner but had to take a temporary or full-time position” to defray costs, the 40-year-old Baltimore and Prince George’s County resident said.

Poplar’s experience mirrors that of findings in {Black Women in the United States, 2014}, a report produced and recently released by the Black Women’s Roundtable.

The multi-faceted assessment of the overall conditions of African-American women shows that while significant progress has been made over the past half-century, there are still areas of dire concern.

“We look at the tragedies and the triumphs surrounding Black Women’s lives across a variety of different indicators and areas of inquiry,” said Avis Jones-DeWeever, founding president and CEO of Incite Unlimited and editor of the report, in a statement. “Black women have made progress since key historical markers such as the {1964 Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education,} and the onset of the War on Poverty, but many areas remain that need urgent action.”

In business, Black women like Poplar comprise the fastest growing segment of the women-owned business market. Black female business owners trail all other women when it comes to revenue generation, the report showed. Black women receive only 6 percent of the revenue generated by all women-owned businesses, compared to 29 percent received by White women.

In education, too, Black women continue to excel despite disadvantages such as disproportionate out-of school suspension rates and schools that are ill-equipped with the courses or trained personnel necessary to prepare them for college.

Over the past five decades, the high school graduation rates of Black women have jumped 63 percent, significantly narrowing the gap with White women (7 percent) and virtually eliminating the gap with Asian women (down to 2 percent). And Black women attain college degrees at significantly higher rates than their male counterparts.

Poplar, who obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Baltimore, said she pursued her education because she believes learning is “priceless.”

“Education is a lifelong process so you should always be a student, looking to learn,” she said. “Education for me has been a key to opportunities.”

Politics, too, presented a positive and negative picture. Black women turned out en masse and played key roles in the 2008 and 2012 presidential election. And even in the recent pivotal Virginia gubernatorial election, exceeded all other groups in turning out on Election Day.

“We are a strong force when it comes to politics, but we’re not getting the full benefits of our voting,” either in policy or in political representation, said Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable Public Policy Network.

Black women hold only 3 percent of state legislative seats, and less than 3 percent of seats in Congress, the report showed.

In other areas the findings were grimmer.

-Economically, Black women are at a significant disadvantage. Black women lead all women in labor force participation rates, yet they experience a large wage gap and are overrepresented in low-wage fields. Because of years of poverty-level wages, decreased access to employer-sponsored pension plans and a general lack of wealth accumulation, Black female retirees have the lowest household income of any other group and experience a poverty rate fully five times that of

White men (16 percent vs. 3 percent). -In the technology race, Black women lag behind, comprising a mere 2 percent of practicing scientists and engineers in the workforce. Many Black women in college studying STEM disciplines report feelings of isolation and experience toxic environments.

-Health presents a particular dark picture as Black women experience particularly poor health outcomes: Black women are three times more likely than women to die in childbirth; they have the highest rates of high blood pressure than any other demographic group in the nation and cancer continues to be a death knell for Black women—five Black women die daily specifically due to disparities in access to treatment for breast cancer, the report showed.

Campbell said the report is meant to serve as a road map for the group’s advocacy on behalf of Black women throughout the U.S.

“This report is not about crying ‘Woe is me’ it is saying ‘Here’s where we are and what are we going to do about it,’” she told the AFRO. “We wanted to have something factual we could use as a benchmark for our organizing as we decide how to go about advocating for issues that are important to us.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO