Despite limited access to equal opportunity, Black women have always gone above and beyond to establish themselves as pioneers across industries. From running for office to running businesses, Black women have consistently exemplified excellence in leadership roles throughout history. As of 2021, Black women are the fastest-growing demographic of entrepreneurs in the U.S., with nearly 2.7 million businesses nationwide.
We spoke with three trailblazing women who are amplifying the voices of Black women in leadership roles to learn how these women were able to create room for themselves and other Black women to share unique ideas. We interviewed the founder of the national math club Trapezium, Angela McIver; designer and creator of Maison Black, Tori Nichel; and entrepreneur Robin Andrade of SELL ATLANTA to find out how these amazing women built a lifestyle where they could be their own bosses.
Angela McIver is a math enthusiast, proud mother, and the owner of Trapezium Math Club, a national math club working with students in grades K-5 in fostering confidence in STEM.
McIver used to work as an educator for an after school program with Temple University.
The program allowed prospective, first-generation, college students from low-income backgrounds to study on the University’s campus during their ninth-grade year. The program aims to increase enrollment in college-level STEM programs.
But after working with the program, McIver realized that many of her students whom she believed were well prepared for science and math were actually dropping out of their STEM courses. Trying to understand why, McIver began taking STEM courses at Temple University herself to see how the knowledge was being taught to students.
She realized that students in her classes failed to grasp the complex concepts of college STEM due to a lack of foundational knowledge in math and science that they should have learned in elementary school. McIver ended up going back to school to study older kids with weak math foundations, and she received her doctorate in 2005.
Shortly after, McIver’s own children began elementary school. By this time, she had already created a list of things that students should know by fifth grade if they were going to be successful in math in middle school and high school. After looking over her children’s math curriculums, McIver realized that their school was not fully preparing them to succeed in STEM. McIver went to the principal’s office to suggest some much-needed changes to the school’s math curriculum, but she was met with heavy pushback from the administration.
In response to this, McIver decided to start her own math club at home where her children could go to learn the foundational math skills they were missing. Initially, McIver’s math club was not a business, but simply a way for her to make sure that her own children were being given all the tools to ensure their success in school. McIver invited some of her children’s friends to join the math club as well.
By 2014, McIver’s math club included dozens of students from K-5, and McIver officially made her math club into a business, Trapezium.
She explained, “I started a math club with my son when he was in first grade with some of his friends. When he graduated from eighth grade, the only kids who tested into advanced high school math classes from their elementary school were Trapezium math students.
“It was the first time in the school’s history that African American students tested into advanced math. Our two African American students — my son was one of them — tested directly into 10th grade advanced math, which puts them on track to have two years of calculus in high school.
“Less than two percent of African American students in the country take two years of calculus, so we realized that we really knew how to do this and that we knew how to do it for Black children especially.”
McIver’s love for her family and her desire to see them all excel drives her. Her strong relationship with her family greatly contributed to her longstanding success with Trapezium. She always strives to spend time teaching and learning from her children every day.
As a mother and educator, McIver is dedicated to improving her children and students’ confidence. Growing up, McIver always excelled in math courses, but because no one ever told her that she was exceptional in these areas, it took McIver years before she truly realized how much she enjoyed math and STEM.
Now, McIver wants to be the person who makes children, and especially Black children, understand that they are capable of achieving success in the largest white-dominated world of STEM.
She said, “My husband and I both got the exact same SAT scores, but I scored higher than he did in math, and he scored higher than I did in verbal. He went on to major in engineering and computer science, and I went on to major in history and economics. I never saw myself as being capable of doing high-level math even though I was always getting top scores.
“As a Black female, that was just not something that anyone ever reinforced for me. When I realized how much I love math and how good I was at math it was surprising. I never had that confidence, so I want to make sure that students, and Black girls particularly, come out of elementary school feeling like they are smart and that they can do this.”
Since the pandemic began in 2020, Trapezium has moved to remote learning. Although this was difficult at first, McIver is grateful as it has helped her business expand, and, specifically, reach more under-represented communities.
McIver realized that schools in her district had the money for after-school enrichment programs, but lacked the staff to cover these programs. Trapezium now serves students in 18 states, and they are currently helping school districts in New Jersey by providing free, after-school math programs for students.
“What we’re finding is that a lot of schools have money for after-school enrichment programs, but no staff because teachers are burnt out at the end of the school days. We just entered a contract with a school district to do an after-school, online math club with 200 of their students,” McIver says.
She added that they are looking to expand their work to other schools because she thinks that is the key to giving students from underrepresented communities access to their resources.
McIver has always had a passion for entrepreneurship and the freedom that comes with it.
“My youngest daughter is the most like me. I’m reflecting on my own childhood by watching her. She, like me, does not like being told what to do. I never liked having a boss because I always thought I could do this better and would like to make suggestions about how to do things differently. I don’t like someone else having control over my life and my schedule and I’m grateful that I can have my own business and choose what I want my days to look like,” she explains.
Day in a Life of Angela McIver
McIver: I am dedicated to waking up early and working out. I do my workouts with Tunde. I carpool and take my daughter and her friends to school on certain days, then I come home and walk my dog. When I come back in, I get my coffee and read the New York Times and Washington Post. I do Wordle every day, and then I jump into my work.
5 a.m.: Wake up
6 a.m.: Exercise with Pelton’s Tunde
7 a.m.: Carpool to school
8 a.m.: Walks the family dog, and enjoys morning coffee
McIver: On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we have these blocks of time where we do all of our meetings and we really have figured out how to keep our company culture even though we are all spread out. We always do check-ins and we always talk to create a community because when you’re not working in the same office you can lose that. That’s become a real ritual in our workdays — creating space and time for our whole staff to check-in, share and connect.
9–4 p.m.: Meetings with staff and clients of Trapezium
McIver: I’m not so good at always making dinner for my family, but I have taught my kids how to cook! Sometimes I will make dinner for the whole family, other times it will be like everyone for themselves, or sometimes one of my kids will offer to cook, and they’ll just send me a grocery list of things to pick up.
My after-dinner ritual is generally spending time with my husband and family. I like to read every day, and I usually read at night too. I am currently reading a book called “Our Country Friends,” which is a pandemic novel about a group of friends who move to upstate New York during the pandemic.
7 p.m.: Dinner and family time
8 p.m.: Spending time with family
9 p.m.: Reading and bedtime
Robin Andrade is the CEO of SELL ATLANTA, a full-service, boutique real estate firm servicing Metro Atlanta and surrounding counties. She is also a star cast member on “Ladies Who List Atlanta,” a reality television show about women working in real estate in Atlanta.
“I was living in an apartment on Section 8, and it was an apartment building with three families. I was living there with my family, and I had to beg this lady to even let me rent her house. It was a beautiful, historic home.
The bank called one day and said that the house was going into foreclosure, but because I resided there I had the first option to buy,” Andrade narrates.
Although Andrade knew nothing about real estate at the time, she was compelled to take the risk and buy the property.
“Back then, there was no internet, like you had to be rich to have a computer, so I made phone calls to banks and figured it out. I bought that house, and I was 21. I lived for free for six years and learning how to be a landlord and a homeowner at the same time sparked my desire to have more real estate in my life,” she says.
In 2005, Andrade decided that she wanted to get into helping other people acquire properties as well. She moved to Atlanta and received her brokerage license in 2007. In 2010, Andrade launched SELL ATLANTA, which has now sold hundreds of properties in commercial and residential real estate. SELL ATLANTA offers relocation, residential, commercial, rental, and property management services.
“I tasted it for the first time with my own experience. My experience was a gift from God,” Andrade says.
She did not know anyone in real estate when she began, but the prospect of doing something different and new intrigued her. With time and dedication, Andrade was able to go from owning her first property to helping dozens acquire their dream homes.
She had phenomenal leadership skills from a young age. Growing up, Andrade led her teammates and classmates in activities. She was named head cheerleader and line leader. Seeing her parents and teachers entrusting her with responsibility made Andrade realize that she was capable of taking charge. Still, it would be many years before Andrade was able to become her own boss.
Andrade became a mother at just 17 years old. While other teenagers were simply going to school and hanging out with their friends, Andrade was waking up at 5 a.m. to care for her daughter and get to class on time. In the afternoons, she worked before coming home to watch her daughter, take care of her house and homework.
For many years, Andrade lived a rigid lifestyle where she felt she never had a moment to spare. Her passion for entrepreneurship came from a desire to create an easier life for herself where she would have more time to enjoy each moment, rather than feeling that she was simply rushing from one event to the next. Now, Andrade values peace and freedom above all else.
“I’ve always been in the pursuit of happiness and in the pursuit of some sort of relaxation. When you’re young and you have to wake up at five in the morning to be at school at 7 a.m., to come home and go to work from 4 to 8 p.m., and then come home again and take care of your newborn. It’s like the clock never stops ticking. You’re always out of time, and that would build up such anxiety in me. Being an entrepreneur has helped me to find a smooth landing,” She says.
Although Andrade has had financial success, making money has never been the ultimate goal for her. Instead, Andrade pursues things that bring her joy and fulfillment.
“Success to me is being able to do what I want when I want, and having a bank account that I can look at and feel secure. I always look at my money, but I’m not a workhorse. I’m really taking time to smell the flowers and go outside. That’s important to me now because I’ve lived such a chaotic life growing up. Money is money. When you obsess over it, you miss out on time because you’re not really experiencing anything,” she says.
Additionally, Andrade strives to be an example of excellence for her children. She is grateful that she was able to create a life for her kids that allowed them to grow up in places she was never able to afford at their age. She has always taught her children the value of self-sufficiency and owning property.
At just twenty-three years old, Andrade’s daughter successfully purchased her first property overlooking the Atlanta Beltline. Her son is a recent college graduate, and he is currently working on building his work history, so he can also buy property in the next few years.
In line with her dedication to protecting her own sense of freedom, Andrade does not follow a strict schedule. Andrade tries not to view the work she does with SELL ATLANTA as a job. Instead, she intertwines her personal time and work time so that she is consistently choosing when and how much she wants to work.
On a sunny day, she may be outside enjoying her balcony while talking to clients, or she may spend her afternoon deep conditioning her hair while answering emails. Andrade knows that she is her best self when she creates space to take care of her mind and body. If Andrade wants to stop working for a few hours to take a nap and recharge, she will because she knows that she will do better work once she is energized.
Currently, Andrade is balancing her time between running SELL ATLANTA and premiering on “Ladies Who List Atlanta.” She enjoys the opportunity to share parts of her life and the knowledge she’s gained over the years with a wider audience on television.
However, she warns viewers not to just look at the glitz and glam that comes with documenting their on-screen lives. Instead, she wants people to know that being a successful real estate agent takes lots of studying, trial and error, and dedication. In the future, Andrade hopes to use her platform on “Ladies Who List Atlanta” to build her personal brand.
“My next goal is to monetize myself using the platform that I have on TV,” she said. “I have a CBD line coming out. We’ve explored mental health during ‘Ladies Who List Atlanta,’ and a CBD company reached out to me and asked if we could create a Robin line. We are working on that, and I hope that CBD is looked at a lot better. It can definitely replace harsher addictions, like alcoholism, that can kill us. I’m hoping to have hair oil, a lip plumper and vape pens. Where it’s legal to have THC in different states, we’ll have that as well.”
Day in the Life of Robin Andrade
Andrade: My morning is going to differ from everyone else’s. I don’t live on a schedule. I want to tell you that I wake up every day and meditate, but I don’t. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to live alone, so I indulge in it.
I do real estate because I love it, so I never want it to feel like work. When I do get up in the morning, I usually check emails immediately. I often create a Morning Sunrise video to post to cool music, and then I take care of my hygiene and all that stuff.
Depending on how I feel and depending on the season. If it’s summer, I’m probably hitting outside. Now that it’s winter and we’re in COVID, I may do some yoga. I have a yoga mat in place of a dining room table.
Andrade: If I have clients on the books, I make sure that I speak with them first. I will usually follow up on leads, and social media is a big outlet, so I find myself on there a lot. Clients are there and future clients are there and people usually have questions. I’m running social media all day because I like to answer my own questions and I don’t have anyone monitoring my page at this time.
I work sporadically throughout the day. If I need to take a nap, I take one. I work until I don’t feel like it, and then I’ll start up again. It’s a very “Robin organized” system, and it doesn’t feel like work. If I’m enjoying the sunshine on the balcony, I’m still responding to emails and taking phone calls. I’m making breakfast while talking to clients.
If I have home time, then I’m doing a face mask and deep oil treating my hair. My days are very nontraditional, and I have a lot of me-time. I schedule my showtimes if I am showing something based around the urgency level.
Andrade: I enjoy watching good TV. I fall asleep when I’m tired and I wake up when I’m ready
Tori Nichel is a trailblazing entrepreneur, womenswear designer, and creative design leader. Tori Nichel is the founder and chief creative officer of Maison Black New York. Tori Nichel mentors several budding designers through the Fashion Scholarship Fund. She has been named “Designer to Watch” by Women’s Wear Daily and Forbes.
“I told myself that if I didn’t get into design school, then I would have to start over. That thought was so daunting. I had no idea what else I would want to be,” she says.
Tori Nichel always knew that she wanted to be a fashion designer. When faced with the daunting task of applying to design school, Nichel knew that she would reapply over and over if need be
Tori Nichel always knew that she wanted to be a fashion designer. When faced with the daunting task of applying to design school, Nichel knew that she would reapply over and over if need be. There was no other path in life that she saw herself taking. Although this put pressure on her to work hard in her field, she is grateful for always being able to have a purpose and dream in her life to work toward.
“Other than wanting a house full of kids with a hubby and a dog named Leroy, my life is quite aligned with the vision I had when I was younger. I was blessed at a young age to know what I wanted to do”, she explains. “I recognize that not everyone is born with that chip and has to find their why over time. Others are forced to be someone they were not put on this earth to be. That breaks my heart. Time moves so fast.
She added that she believes that we only get one shot at life, and getting paid to do what we dreamt of being as a kid is a blessing.
“It’s for that reason I embrace and immerse myself into it on a daily basis,” she says.
Tori Nichel has been a designer for many years, but Maison Black was founded less than five months ago.
“It feels like Maison Black has been around for five years, but we’ve only been around for four months,” she says.
She created Maison Black New York to honor and uplift the voices of other Black designers in the fashion industry. She believes that Black creatives are trend leaders across industries, so she created Maison Black as a destination for Black designers to be recognized for shaping global style.
Since its founding, Maison Black has showcased works from ten Black designers, including from Apotts, Esenshel, and Lorraine West. As is necessary when starting a new and developing business, Nichel is hands-on when working on Maison Black.
“It’s still really important to make sure that the brand vision is held together and that the nuances are there. If I’m shooting a product, I have the closest relationship with the designer, so I need to make sure that their product is shot in the right light and that we’re protecting their brand integrity as well as our own,” she explains.
A typical day of running Maison Black may include meetings with interns, meetings with designers, photoshoots, and more.
She often wakes up at five in the morning so that she can work on Maison Black before beginning work at her day job. Time is very precious to Nichel, but she never takes her personal life for granted. Although she always works hard, she is grateful for each moment that she gets to spend creating new memories with her friends and family. She advises all Black entrepreneurs to surround themselves with trustworthy and loving people who will uplift them as they embark on their often strenuous entrepreneurial paths.
“My advice to Black entrepreneurs is to follow the three P’s: Prayer, Perseverance and Persistence. Ensure your foundation is on lock. I am talking about your sistership crew, tribe, and family. The people who you know have you covered without asking, and the ones who will lift you on days you want to give up because there will be those days,” she advises.
She added that being an entrepreneur is incredibly hard, and oftentimes lonely.
“We are unicorns. The best gift I have received on this journey is someone telling me, ‘I got you.’ Taking that one thing off of my endless list of to-dos is golden, and it means more than any material gift could mean to me,” she says.
As a Black woman entrepreneur, Nichel has had her share of obstacles. Without her trusted group of friends and family, she may not have made it through those times of doubt.
“Be ready for rejection. Be ready for the no’s on why your Black-owned, female-led business is not quite ready for the funding or sponsorship, but do not let rejection stop you,” she advises. “I truly believe if God gave you the vision to create, then He will provide you the resources to execute. When you get those yes — whew, were they worth all the no’s.”
She added that she wanted to find work-life balance on her terms.
“I never want the business to block my blessings on finding the one. Building a legacy business is something I want to build with someone to leave behind for our children,” she says.
She laments that women like her are often misunderstood because of their ambition and drive.
“Oftentimes … I have to make what feels like 9,000 decisions daily, and some are million-dollar decisions, so … I’m really OK with someone else choosing what’s for dinner. My evening wind downs are precious to me, and, if this protective Virgo lets you in, then she really wants you there,” she says.
Day in the Life of Tori Nichel
Nichel: I have a ritual that I try to do to start my morning. I have a little prayer box, and inside of it I have — probably too many — affirmations. It takes me about 25 minutes to get through them all. They are affirmations to myself — expressing what I want out of life, and what I want out of my business. It allows me to hit the reset button if I didn’t have a great day before, and, if I did have a great day before, it helps me amplify that going into the next day. I have a guardian angel. I lost my mom in June 2016. My prayer always involves her, and I always ask her and the Lord to never let go of my hand and to guide me. The three of us are a part of that journey in the morning.
5 a.m: Wake up, and daily affirmations and prayer
6 a.m.: Shower while listening to old school Hip-Hop
6:30 a.m. Breakfast and start work for Maison Black New York
Nichel: The day is pretty wild. I have a day job. I am committed to my day job from 9 until 5, or sometimes 6. I lead a 500-million-dollar brand for a national retailer. I am a design director, and I have an amazing design team there. It’s a huge responsibility, and, in that role, I can be doing anything from building concepts, to finalizing the line, to establishing new fits for the season. I have fittings twice a week that can go up to two and a half hours. I mentor three people in the organization and another person outside of the organization with the Fashion Scholarship Fund. My day is pretty full.
9 a.m.–5 p.m.: Day job working as design director
Nichel: What I discovered last year is that I have such a stressful, fast-paced job, and I need something to ground me and continue to soften me. Just making sure that I’m catering to that feminine side and coming down on the day, and I was able to find that in yoga. I try to do yoga two to three times a week. I know a phenomenal Black woman based in Dallas, Texas with whom I virtually do yoga. It’s amazing. My goal now is just to continue to move and flow.
6 p.m.: Yoga
7 p.m.: Dinner
8 p.m.: Evening work for Maison Black New York