Black entrepreneurship in America has been around since slavery, when Black slaves and freedmen used their skills and trade to buy their freedom or the freedom of their family.
At the same time, Black Americans have faced obstacles for decades in establishing ownership, financial liberation, and education. Those barriers are clear in a racial wealth gap that continues to widen with each generation. A 2017 report cited data from the Federal Reserve spanning over 30 years, from 1983 to 2013, showing that the median white household wealth increased by 14% while the median Black household wealth declined by 75%.
“If average Black family wealth continues to grow at the same pace it has over the past three decades, it would take Black families 228 years to amass the same amount of wealth white families have today,” found a 2016 report by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Economic Development.
For centuries, ownership equaled wealth for Black families. Today, it’s a financial asset that can be passed down to the next generation to help close the racial wealth gap.
This is the legacy Lauren Miller’s family created over 150 years ago with Miller Farms, one of the largest Black-owned farms in the Southeast. In 1986, her father, Dave J. Miller Sr., founded DJ Miller & Associates Inc., now Miller3 Consulting Inc., which aims to help cities meet their goals of hiring minority-owned businesses for government contracting. After her father’s death, she became the director of business development for the company, and her brother took on the position as chief executive, maintaining the family business.
It’s also the legacy the NBA legend Michael Jordan created for his five children by leveraging his basketball career into a billion-dollar empire with sports apparel, NBA team ownership, and restaurants. Though his siblings have taken roles within the Jordan business, Marcus Jordan is creating his own lane.
And it’s the legacy Fred Luster Sr. wanted to develop with his haircare company, Luster Products Inc., in 1957. Years later, the Luster family name still reigns in Chicago, and Luster’s five grandchildren, including Theresa Luster, are bringing their millennial-savvy to the family business.
Here are their stories.
Lauren Miller took on the family business after her father became sick: ‘I had to be the most selfless I’ve ever been’
Though the 32-year-old Miller has been involved with her father’s company since she was a child, it wasn’t until adulthood when she fully understood what her father’s career entailed. As a kid, she would help out around the office and get paid an hourly rate that equaled her age at the time.
Ownership is something that was important for the Miller family, and her father took pride in being able to have a business that provided a livelihood for others. “Looking back, my dad started to teach me the importance of signing the front of checks and not being comfortable with signing the back of a check,” she said, referring to being able to provide a salary to others.
Her father wanted the company to stay in the family, and he started to make a succession plan as early as 2005. In 2014, however, he learned he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an incurable lung condition.
“My father was very instrumental in working to find opportunities for Black-owned businesses growing up,” Miller said, adding that people “always mentioned how many Black millionaires he created” by increasing nonwhite participation in government contracting.
Miller3 Consulting conducted the country’s first disparity study, which played a part in the US Supreme Court in Richmond v. Croson decision in 1989.
“Essentially, a disparity study assesses if there’s any active or passive discrimination in a government contract,” Miller said. The city of Dayton hired the company to collect evidence in the extent of discrimination toward minority-owned businesses in the city. Once the company researched and reviewed laws, statistical data, and interviews, the company found that there was discrimination toward Black and women-owned businesses and presented the findings to the court. The company has conducted more than 140 such studies across the country since.
Miller and her older brother took on ownership in February 2018. Other members of the Miller family have worked for the company in different capacities throughout the years, including her older sister.
“My aunt, my father’s sister, was our office manager for 20-something years, and she still is now,” Miller said. Growing up in an agricultural family where everyone pitched in to make the farm thrive is what Miller believes set the foundation for her father.
“That’s where that foundation of you may want to go right, or you may want to go left, but we’ve got a legacy here,” she added. “We’ve got to get it together, and we’ll always have a unified commitment toward the legacy.”
Miller’s brother started working for their father’s company after he graduated from college, but Miller had a different plan for her career. She was 26 years old and living out of a suitcase traveling from Los Angeles to Philadelphia and creating content for her digital travel platform, Can’t Stay Put, when her father learned he was sick.
The transition from building her own legacy to being thrown into the family business was a difficult one. She moved in with her father, took him to his appointments, and learned how to manage his symptoms, all while managing her own company. Her father invested in Can’t Stay Put, though, so she could keep it alive while she ran the Miller business.
“It was very hard to become selfless because I think in your 20s you have been conditioned to believe that it’s just the time that you’re looking out for yourself,” Miller said. “You’re trying new things, you’re going places, trying to figure out your career, and for me, I had to be the most selfless I’ve ever been.”
Marcus Jordan carved his own path with investment and support from his father: ‘While it is independent, it still is somewhat synonymous with my dad’s legacy’
For Marcus Jordan, 29, and his siblings, understanding their father’s enterprise has become a priority in recent years.
“We’re actually in the process right now of coaching, where we learn more about my dad’s enterprise and what that all encompasses,” he said. “It gives us the knowledge that eventually one day when my dad is no longer with us and it’s transferred over to us that we’re equipped to kind of grow that and make it that it continues to mature.”
Jordan’s sister used to work for the Charlotte Hornets and now works for the Jordan Brand, and his brother works for the Jordan Brand in Portland, Oregon. Jordan, however, always knew he wasn’t fit to work in a corporate setting, so he created his own company, The Trophy Room, an elevated retail boutique that offers exclusive footwear, apparel, and memorabilia.
“We are independent,” Jordan said. “I 100% own The Trophy Room. While it is independent, it still is somewhat synonymous with my dad’s legacy. I’ve been around sneakers and the fashion industry all my life. Being in Orlando and going to [the University of Central Florida], I just realized that there was a void here in the marketplace.”
He named and fashioned his store after the trophy room at the Jordan family residence, which became the gathering spot when people came over to visit.
The new location for The Trophy Room in Orlando, Florida, is scheduled to open this summer and will include a new concept tied to the basketball icon’s legacy. The idea, called the Breakfast Club, is to provide interactive experiences like events and workshops inspired by the NBA Hall of Famer’s 1989 workouts, “where he required his teammates to come to the gym early to get stronger and better and faster to beat the Detroit Pistons ‘Bad Boys,”’ Jordan said. By bringing the concept to the Trophy Room, Jordan hopes to inspire and equip his customers to learn more about the sneaker and fashion industry.
Jordan still had to do his research, develop a business plan, and pitch his way into an investment from his father. After pitching his father the first time, it was suggested that he intern at a retail store to gain more experience. Instead, Jordan found a friend, James Whitner, who owned 16 stores and had over 20 years of retail expertise to mentor and partner with him. From there, Jordan had several more meetings with his father, pitching him and then going back to the drawing board to answer the questions his father had. Eventually, he got the investment he needed to get the ball rolling.
The biggest lesson he learned from his father is always to be a “student of the game.”
“You can always learn something or get better than you were yesterday,” he said. “There are no wrong questions — ask until you figure it out and practice every day, no matter what you do.”
Theresa Luster explored other career options before finding her path at Luster Products: ‘It’s a very family-oriented organization’
A 2018 Nielsen report said Black consumers spent $473 million on haircare — a $4.2 billion industry overall, according to Nielsen — in 2017. The Black haircare industry is behind the success of the first known Black self-made millionaire, Madam CJ Walker, in 1906, and it’s why Luster Products Inc. is still thriving after being in business for over 60 years, with three generations running the company. Fred Luster Sr., a barber from the South Side of Chicago, started Luster Products in 1957, making the products at home and selling them out of the trunk of his car until he eventually opened his own factory.
Theresa Luster, who’s now in her late 20s, is the granddaughter of Fred Luster Sr. and a part of the third generation of Lusters running the family business, which employs more than 250 people.
In Chicago, the Luster name is prominent. She recalls being in high school and everyone with the Luster name working at Luster Land, the name of the family’s facilities.
“The boys are in our manufacturing plant driving forklifts and getting inventory off of the rack, while the girls were in the front office” doing administrative work, she said. Luster credits her parents with keeping them humble. When she was a child, she said, her mother made the children talk to everyone who worked for the company when they came to visit.
Now that she and her two siblings and two cousins work for the company, Luster admires the fact that employees watched her grow up. “It’s a very family-oriented organization, and a lot of my coworkers feel as if they were a part of raising us,” Luster said.
Upon graduating from Columbia College Chicago, she took a marketing course in which her professor was a Black woman. While in the class, she was asked what she wanted to do for a living, and Luster shared that she wanted to work in fashion and beauty in New York City.
“I just remember her pulling me aside,” she said. “She asked: ‘Have you ever thought about working in your family’s business? You can do everything you just described in your family’s business.'” At that point, Luster hadn’t had a conversation with her family about working for the company, but eventually her father, Jory Luster, the president and chief executive of Luster Products, asked her to be a marketing intern.
Unlike many children who are heirs to their family business, Luster had the opportunity to work and intern at different companies to figure out what she wanted to do with her career. From public relations to banking, Luster explored her options. After she graduated, her father offered her a full-time position as an assistant brand manager.
The downside to working with family has been finding separation between work and family time. “It can be Thanksgiving and I’m talking to my uncle about formulations, or I’m talking to my cousin about developing a platform online,” Luster said.
For Luster, though, generational wealth means opportunity. “It’s about having the resources to continue to build upon and expand Luster Products’ legacy beyond beauty and personal care,” she said.