CLEVELAND, Ohio — At a two-day entrepreneurial conference, filled with topics like access to capital and succession planning, fourth-generation entrepreneur and philanthropist Susan Taylor asked attendees to just stop and breathe.
“Quiet time is the key,” said Taylor, 71, who served as keynote speaker at the Presidents’ Council’s inaugural Entrepreneurship Conference on Tuesday at Corporate College. “Give yourself to yourself before you dive into business….You have to give back to yourself before you can give it away.”
Taylor spoke from experience when she told about 150 participants that ups and downs are part of life, and that death has claimed a few of her friends in their 30’s and 40’s in the last month.
“The first business that you should be concerned about is your wellness,” she said, before talking about the importance of gratitude and of aligning with the bigger mission of helping those less fortunate.
The author of four books, Taylor was the longtime editor-in-chief and publications director of Essence magazine before founding the National Cares Mentoring Movement, a fast-growing mentor-recruitment organization in 58 cities, including Cleveland.
She asked conference attendees to consider giving back just one hour a week to advise and help guide a vulnerable young person. She also talked about the importance of entrepreneurship, and the jobs provided by small business owners.
Taylor started the National Cares Mentoring Movement in 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, while still editor-in-chief of Essence. The magazine had long held its annual Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, and the connection led her to become a prominent advocate for the hurricane-battered city.
Feeling she couldn’t go back to business as usual, or to her retirement plans of working at a historically black college, Taylor left Essence after 37 years to create a national mentor organization that could make a difference in under-resourced communities.
The mission of the National Cares Mentoring Movement is to transform the lives of black children by inspiring, recruiting and mobilizing masses of black men and women to mentor and nourish them.
Before Taylor took the microphone, attendees watched a short video with African-American and Latino entertainers including Oprah Winfrey, Kanye West and Harry Belafonte, talking about negative statistics affecting minority communities.
“The children need you so,” Taylor said in the video. “All we’re asking is that you give one hour a week to help save a life and secure a child.”
But when she took the stage, Taylor’s immediate focus was not on how people in the business community need to give back, but about first taking care of yourself. At one point she even asked the audience to learn a breathing technique, and told them that there is no excuse for not taking at least 20 minutes a day for some type of physical activity.
Then she suggested that people consider getting rid of toxic people in their lives.
“Not everybody is healthy enough to have a front row seat in your life,” she said. “Change the temperature in your life, in your business and in your community.”
Brian Hall, an entrepreneur with 30 years’ experience leading companies in logistics, distribution, real estate and food service, said as a founder of the Presidents’ Council, he was pleased with the choice of Susan Taylor as speaker.
“It’s the continuation of the evolution of our organization from 20 years ago, with a few business people trying to pool capital together and think of ways to help our community,” he said. “We eventually moved towards helping other young businesses and kids to launch the business chamber bringing together a number of businesses. Now we’re asking, How do we offer more value, with our first entrepreneurs conference.”
Michael Obi, a member of the President’s Council, a group of black executives, agreed that Taylor represents part of the group’s mission.
“Our focus has been around entrepreneurship and wealth creation, but poverty is poverty, and we want to cure poverty in the black community, and begin to move the needle around some of the metrics about building wealth,” said Obi, chairman and CEO of Spectrum Global Solutions. “Susan Taylor has a message about how we should become more involved in not just building our own individual businesses, but also creating more jobs that can help move people out of poverty.”