On #BlackGirlMagic and Eating Pink Elephants: An Interview with Cheryl Grace

BlackHer is all about advancing Black women’s personal, economic, and political power by getting educated and organized.

This week we were thrilled to catch up with Cheryl Grace, senior vice president of U.S. Strategic Community Alliances and Consumer Engagement at Nielsen and founder of Powerful Penny, an aspirational, lifestyle brand for women.

Me: Thank you so much for your time and for co-authoring, African-American Women: Our Science, Her Magic.  It is an incredibly helpful resource and eye-opening report on the status of Black women in the U.S.

Cheryl: My pleasure.  We felt it was important to help brands understand the powerful role that Black women play as cultural trendsetters and consumers.  Many people don’t know these stats.

Me: Say more.  What did you learn in the production of this report?  What numbers jumped out at you?

Cheryl:  Sure.  I’m always impressed by our engagement in education and entrepreneurship.  For example, 64 percent of Black females enroll in college right after high school.  That’s a huge number. And over 58 percent of Black women over the age of 25 have attended some college.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, Black women are primary owners in 1.5M businesses with $42B in sales.  We know how to hustle and are eager to lead!

In my mind, our educational and entrepreneurial aspirations go hand in hand and speak to our persistence and ambition.  Black women are an important economic engine for our families and communities.

Me: That’s right.  I was surprised and pleased to read that by 2020, it’s estimated that collectively, we will have $1.5T in spending power!

Cheryl: Exactly.  And brands that want our dollars need to get to know and engage us.

Me: That said, the news in your report isn’t all good.  What do you make of the fact that average Black household income is $54K but average Black female income is only $22K?  This is something we’re really concerned about at BlackHer. How do we ensure that Black women can increase their incomes and save?  We need to build wealth.

Cheryl:  You have to keep in mind that the $54K is total household, which could include more than one person. The $22K figure is the average individual income amount for Black women, period. So you’re not comparing apples to apples when you compare households vs. individuals. But, I agree, we do need to work on increasing our savings.  Having a cushion is something that is so important. It can be hard to get going if you don’t have one.

Me: Let’s turn to Powerful Penny!  I love your new site and brand.  Tell me about it. When and why did you launch and how in the world do you stay on top of your business and your high-profile career?

Cheryl: [Laughs] It’s not easy.  I’m up late at night!

I’ve had an incredibly successful career and I love my job at Nielsen.  Before Nielsen, I had the opportunity to work at NBC for four years. Prior to that, I worked with big brand-name nonprofits, including the Boys & Girls Clubs and YWCA.  

That said, as early as 25, I began to ask myself, “Is this all there is to life?”

In my 30’s I got married and had a baby and bought a beautiful (and expensive!) car. And, then one day my husband put me and the baby out.  It was a harrowing experience but it forced me to grow up.

Me: Yikes!  I had a similar experience in my 30s.  And while it was awful at the time, I look back and realize that it made me stronger.  My divorce from my first husband built my character.

Cheryl:  Exactly.  My divorce fueled me.  And one of the reasons that I started Powerful Penny is to help other women get to their next level of best by learning from (and avoiding!) my mistakes.

We launched our blogs and website four months ago and it’s been an amazing journey.  

Me: I love it.  What are your services?

Cheryl:  I provide public speaking, workshops, lectures, and one-on-one mentoring.  I also sell what I call Power Tools, like my Pink Elephant Planner and affirmation cards, to help my clients stay on track.

Me: Tell me about these Pink Elephants!

Cheryl:  [Laughing] Pink elephants are big, audacious goals that we all have.  In my experience, most Black women don’t want to live average or ordinary lives.  We have dreams in many areas, including career, family, and our finances. But it can be daunting to know how to get to that next level of fabulosity and intentionally create the lives we seek and deserve.  

I help my clients break up their “elephants” into small bites so that they have a manageable plan and process in place for getting to where they want to go.

Me: Who are some of your mentors?  Who are some of the Black women that you look up to?  

Cheryl:  Lisa Nichols, the founder of Motivating the Masses, inspires me.  At a low point in her life, she had $14 in her checking account.  She now runs a multi-million dollar business. She’s written several books and does stadium-sized speaking engagements.  But most of all, success hasn’t changed her. She’s incredibly humble and authentic.

I also admire my friend Susan Taylor, the former editor and chief, of Essence.  She has such a calming demeanor.  And she is always trying to lift up others, especially Black women.


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