When Dreams Won't Die
By Marilyn Johnson Kondwani
Ever since I can remember, I've been fascinated by beauty. As a young girl surrounded by the numbing sameness of all those cornfields around Indianapolis, the glamorous worlds of fashion and cosmetics were a magnificent escape for me.
Every time I looked at the advertisements in women's magazines - all those gorgeous models with flawless skin and expertly applied makeup, their statuesque bodies adorned with incredible designer outfits - I was whisked away to exotic places I could only revisit in dreams.
The Revlon ads were especially wonderful. But there was only one problem - not one ad in those days featured a woman of color like me. Still, there was a "whisper of wisdom" inside me, telling me "to tarry on," that someday my dream would come true and I would have a career in the cosmetics industry.
Very few companies bothered to market cosmetics to women of color in those days, but my inspiration came from C. J. Walker, the first African-American woman to become a millionaire. She started out with two dollars and a dream, right in my own hometown. She earned the fortune at the turn of the century, with her own line of hair-care products just for women like herself.
I graduated from college with a degree in public health education. Before long I got a job with a leader in the pharmaceuticals industry - and became the first African-American woman to sell pharmaceuticals in Indiana.
People were shocked that I took the job because a woman of color selling encyclopedias in my territory had just been killed. In fact, when I started, the physicians I dealt with looked at me as if I had two heads.
But eventually my uniqueness worked to my advantage. The doctors and nurses remembered me. And I reversed the negative halo effect by doing the job better than other people.
Along with pharmaceuticals, I helped the nurses with their makeup. They began to look forward to my coming, not just for the novelty, but because we enjoyed such heartwarming visits.
Within two years, I'd broken numerous sales records and was recognized as a Distinguished Sales Representative, formerly an all-white male club.
I was looking forward to some hard-earned commission checks when suddenly, the company decided to subdivide the region and hired a handsome blond man to take my place.
He would enjoy the fruits of my labor, while I was reassigned to another area that needed a lot of work. At this point, my dream of that cosmetics career with Revlon seemed a million miles away.
Discouraged and disenchanted, I picked up and moved to Los Angeles. Then one Sunday, as I searched longingly through the ads in the Los Angeles Times, there it was: a classified ad for a regional manager job with Revlon.
I lit up completely and dove for the phone first thing Monday morning. The voice at the other end said that due to overwhelming response, Revlon was taking no more résumés.
I was devastated. But then a dear friend said to me, "Marilyn, I know you aren't going to let this job slip through your fingers. Go on down there anyway." She inspired me and I became determined to turn this challenge into an adventure,
I drove down to the Marriott where they were conducting interviews. When I arrived, a desk clerk curtly informed me that there was no way I could get an interview, nor would Mr. Rick English take my résumé. I walked away, smiling. At least I now had the name of the man I needed to see.
I decided to have lunch to listen for God's whisper that would provide me with a new strategy. Sure enough, the idea came to me to explain my situation to the cashier as I was about to leave the restaurant. She immediately picked up the phone to find out what room Mr. English was in. "Room 515," she said turning to me. My heart began to pound.
I stood outside room 515, said a prayer and knocked on the door. The minute he opened the door I said, "You haven't met the best person for that job, because you haven't talked to me yet."
He looked stunned and said, "Wait a minute until I finish this interview and I'll speak to you." When I entered the room, I was clear and firm that this job was for me and I got the job.
My first day at Revlon was like a dream come true. They hired me to market a new line of hair-care products designed especially for people of color. And by the time I'd worked there three years, the public was beginning to demand natural, cruelty-free products.
With public sentiment on my side, here was my chance! Once again listening to God's whisper of wisdom inside me, I opened my own cosmetics company, which to this day continues to give me a sense of fulfillment impossible to describe.
I truly believe we should never give up on our hopes and dreams. They guide us from inside. None of my time spent cultivating ground on which I would never harvest, was wasted. I was learning and growing.
Every door that closed, provided opportunity to look for the next door that was waiting. The path may be rocky and twisted, but the world is waiting for that special contribution each of us was born to make. What it takes is the courage to follow those whispers of wisdom from God.
When I listen to that, I expect nothing less than a miracle.
Note: Marilyn's Cosmetics Firm grossed 22 million dollars last year. While I am not fond of the name she chose, I am inspired by her determination to make it happen.
Have a great day!