On Oct. 12, author and journalist A’Lelia Bundles will speak to the Mercyhurst community via Zoom for the Mercyhurst Student Government Distinguished Speaker Series.
Sophomore Events coordinator and Hospitality Management major Kailey Pisani led the effort to bring in Bundles as a speaker. “There were numerous options for speakers, especially virtually. But, we decided on A’Lelia Bundles for a variety of reasons. Our overall reasoning was that she is an incredible role model for everyone. She is dynamic and inspirational and her background is fascinating,” Pisani said.
An award-winning journalist, author and an engaging public speaker among other previous job titles, Bundles is truly a modern-day renaissance woman.
“It would be difficult for a member of our student body or faculty to not be able to relate to her. She is a journalist by trade, but also an award-winning author and producer. She speaks on various topics such as philanthropy, financial literacy, entrepreneurship and women’s and African American history,” Pisani said.
In her 30-year career as an executive and Emmy award-winning producer with ABC News and NBC News, Bundles is also the brand historian for MCJW [Madam C.J. Walker], a line of hair-care products for black women which was created by her greatgreat-grandmother.
As a brand historian to the MCJW line, she founded the Madam Walker Family Archives. In addition, she is on the advisory boards for the March on Washington Film Festival and on the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute and the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative.
Bundles is a graduate of Harvard College and received her masters in Journalism from Columbia University.
“This has been a pivotal year as the Black Lives Matter movement pushes forward and we celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage. Bundles comes from a long line of passionate female activists. Her great-great-grandmother Madam C.J. Walker is the inspiration behind her first book, “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker.” Walker is the first recorded female self-made millionaire. She was a political and social activist as well as a philanthropist. Hearing her story given the state of our country right now could act as a beacon of hope for those vying for change,” Pisani said.
Although Bundles has accomplished much within her own life, she will be speaking about Walker. As her great-great-granddaughter, Bundles wrote a non-fiction biography titled, “On Her Own Ground” about Walker’s life. This book is a New York Times Notable Book and bestseller.
This biography inspired a new Netflix mini-series “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” which came out on Netflix in March 2020. While Bundles consulted for the mini-series, it was ultimately decided that it be a dramatization of Walker’s life. Many aspects of her life such as her political activism and philanthropy were omitted due to only having four hour-long episodes to tell Walker’s story.
While many may know about the life of Madam C.J. Walker, there are many who may have never even heard of her. Born Sarah Breedlove on Dec. 23, 1867, on a cotton plantation in Louisiana, her parents were newly freed slaves, and was the first child of five to be born free.
She eventually moved to St. Louis where her brothers had become barbers and worked while attending public night school whenever she could. She also met her husband, Charles J. Walker who worked in advertising and would later help her to promote her business.
After suffering from a scalp disorder that resulted in her own hair loss, Walker eventually invented a line of hair-care treatments for African American hair.
To her husband’s suggestion, she began to use the name Madam C.J. Walker and her products eventually led to the establishment of Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories. Not only was Walker one of the first female American women to become a self-made millionaire, but she did so as a black woman.
This is even more impressive considering she built her empire in a period where rights for black people and women’s rights were just starting to be recognized.
In addition to “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker,” Bundles is in the process of writing her fifth book “The Joy Goddess of Harlem: A’Lelia Walker and the Harlem Renaissance.”
This book will be about her great-grandmother whose parties, arts patronage and travels helped to define the era. Pisani is very excited to hear Bundles speak to the Mercyhurst community.
“I can’t wait to hear about not only her own journey but the journeys of the influential women before her,” Pisani said. “We [MSG] will be giving away a handful of signed copies of her book ‘Self Made.”
To join the Zoom presentation, students can begin to log on as early as 8 p.m. The event will officially start at 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 12. The link will be posted to MSG’s various social media accounts @msglakers as well as the Student HUB for easy access. If students have any questions or comments about the event, they can reach Kailey Pisani