Minding Their Own Business

Five Female Leaders from Trinidad and Tobago

by Joanne Kilgour Dowdy (Author)
©2017 Textbook XII, 138 Pages


Minding Their Own Business: Five Female Leaders from Trinidad and Tobago is a narrative project that illuminates the historical legacy of entrepreneurship, self-employment, and collective economics within the African diaspora, particularly in the lives of five women leaders of African descent from Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean. By using the financial literacy lens as an analytical tool to interpret these biographies, this book documents the journeys of these independent business women, uncovers the literacy skills they employed, and describes the networking skills that they relied upon personally and professionally. The qualitative data collection methods utilized in this project help to identify lessons that will inform professionals, educators, and business and lay persons about the innovative ways in which teaching and learning take place outside of “formal” business schooling. Information gleaned from this study also serves to broaden traditional understandings of entrepreneurship and economic strategies inherited from majority African descended communities. Additionally, this book illuminates the creative and intellectual modes of learning within the Afrocentric communities that foster successful business practices. Finally, these five successful women pass on to interested learners their methods of modeling, encouraging, and celebrating the means by which independent business people make a positive impact on society.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise For Minding Their Own Business
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Chapter 1: The Businesswomen from Trinidad: “Hucksters and Higglers”
  • Chapter 2: Maria’s Mountain
  • Chapter 3: Gee and Her Floral Arranging Life
  • Chapter 4: Gina’s Party of a Lifetime
  • Chapter 5: Nadine’s Publishing Pyramid
  • Chapter 6: Fona’s Community Book Club
  • Chapter 7: Business Is as Business Does
  • Index
  • Series Index

← viii | ix →


← x | 1 →

Chapter 1


The Businesswomen from Trinidad

“Hucksters and Higglers”

It is certain that, both by inheritance and by purchase with their independent earnings, many women owned property in their own right, although they were unable to vote on the basis of their property. (Craig-James, 2010)

During my first year living in Ohio, I decided to visit a longtime friend at her home in another state and begin documenting her journey as an independent business owner. My friend, Gina for our purposes, had just left her job where she was earning a “six figure salary” and decided to open her own catering business. I wanted to document her experience as an independent businesswoman since it seemed to me that she was off on an adventure that would be exciting, educational, and possibly a path to many other decisions that she might not be able to imagine at this early stage of her venture. This was an opportunity to be educated by someone who was experiencing hands-on learning, and I wanted to be right at her side as she created her vision and lived the reality of her choices.

Then, in 2003 I decided to visit my oldest aunt in Jamaica. My intention was simply to spend two weeks in a leisurely fashion, sitting on ← 1 | 2 → her back porch, chatting about family and visiting with her friends. In a few days after my arrival, however, I was caught up in a whirlwind of activity that involved her floral arranging and gift basket business. Gee, the name I gave her for my research project, had given me notice that Christmas was a busy season for her small business, run from her home, and that all hands were expected to contribute to the wrapping of gift baskets and delivering of floral arrangements to her customers. It didn’t take much for me to “wash my foot and jump in” as our family always said when people were expected to participate without much preamble in events. In other words, we were taught to go with the flow. What surprised me about this somewhat unexpected turn of events, though, was that my aunt explained that she was actually winding down her business and that the number of customers who were getting her attention during that holiday month were actually a small group of friends and long-time associates.

Immediately, I began asking questions about the history of her business and the background that prepared her to carry on such a brisk trade in flowers. Her answers, doled out between cutting flowers, preparing them for baskets of different sizes and shapes, answering calls from last minute clients who needed gifts to send to various friends, and checking her list of addresses for deliveries, led me to believe that I was in the middle of some serious data gathering. Why waste the opportunity to learn about a black woman’s business history when I had a willing participant in front of me? How could a woman who was an immigrant in this country develop and sustain her own business over twenty years? What could I ask of the friends and associates who had been using this florist for several years, and did not intend to let her retire when she felt the need to take a long rest from the demands of her trade?

At some time in the early years of my life in Trinidad I found out that my great grandmother, Mrs. Tee is the name that I use in this study, once ran her own business. As a child, I remembered seeing her garden and always noted that she had the most beautiful flowers in her space. Her blooms including tube roses, croten, and the anthurium lilies were some of my favorites. Many years later after my grandmother died ← 2 | 3 → I found out that her mother, Mrs. Tee, ran a floral business and those tube roses that grew at the side of the front gate to the house were used to make bridal bouquets. In retrospect, it should not have surprised me that my aunt, a descendant of Mrs. Tee, had an interest in flowers. In fact, I was soon to discover that my aunt Gee had more than an “interest” in flowers. She was passionate about the “art of floral arranging” as she explained, and she was able to parlay this burning desire into a service for people who appreciated quality designs using fresh flowers. Over the course of the following three years I was to learn about her evolution in this path with flowers and service to people, and to rearrange my understanding of her. Until this visit to her home in Jamaica I had always thought of her as a retired secretary.

Before I left my aunt’s home in Jamaica, I was introduced to several of the women who made up her business circle. It was fortunate that I was able to reconnect with a former high school friend, Maria is the name I give her in this story, now living on the island, and who was also running her own business. We arranged to meet during my vacation and after our first visit I was able to convince her that she had a story to tell that would benefit those who learned about her. Maria, too, had moved to a country where she had no family or business connections, and started her own public relations firm. We recorded an interview about her history as a business owner while sitting in her car one day. This occasion was another eye-opening adventure because I had formerly thought of my old friend from Trinidad as a journalist. Her transition into public relations was of interest to me, particularly because she was now known as one of the premier providers of public relations services to some of the top firms in her new country.

My interest in black, female business owners who were immigrants and prospering in their new homes overseas continued to lead me to other friends who were managing their own companies. One entrepreneur was running a bookstore in the neighborhood where I lived and she also happened to be originally from Trinidad and recently migrated to the state where we lived. Another businesswoman who was writing and selling books from her home came into my life when we both attended a presentation by a Trinidadian poet in the fifth state ← 3 | 4 → where I lived and worked as an academic. Nadine, as I called her in my research, and I had not seen each other since we left high school in Trinidad. As the owner of a small publishing house in the Midwest, Nadine later worked with me on a book and following that experience I decided to document her story as a businesswoman. Her need to see her own stories in print was the driving force behind her decision to learn how to publish and promote her books so that other Caribbean people might enjoy the work that she produced.

Black Women in Business Since Slavery

Susan Craig-James (2010) states that due to the “severely high death” rates among black men working on sugar plantations, by 1838 the majority of plantation and domestic workers were women in Tobago. In Trinidad, the sister island, the women were involved in a form of resistance to the brutal system of forced labor that was particularly harsh: poisoning (Reddock, 1994). Tobago was soon to be annexed to Trinidad and in the ensuing years a great deal of trade was carried on between the two countries. The level of independence gained by the former slaves during the transition to full emancipation was achieved, among other avenues, through the development of provision grounds and markets where the newly emancipated citizens sold their goods (Macmillan cited in Reddock, 1994). There is much evidence to assert the belief that slaves could run their own businesses, provide food for the population on the estate where they lived, create a monopoly for their goods, and make a profit from sales to their master.

Donald Wood (1968) tells the story of Trinidad’s transition from slavery and the impact of immigrants on the evolution of the country. We get closer to the newly freed black women and their efforts to be self-sufficient in Natural Rebels: A Social History of Enslaved Women in Barbados by Beckles (1989), who gives the background of small business development among the free men and women who were allowed to grow their own crops during slavery. The image of this “huckster or higgler” is captured in a 19th-century photo essay by Harry Hamilton Johnston, “Woman Selling Jack Fruit” (1908–09) that was restored for ← 4 | 5 → public consumption by the Royal Geographic Society. In that exhibit there is a photo of a black, female vegetable seller with her produce set out around her. The foundation for the enterprising female women in the Caribbean islands also has a sister development in the story of the lives of such women as Sojourner Truth (McKissack & McKissack, 1994) and Harriet Tubman (Clinton, 2005). The latter, famous for her effort to free slaves from plantations and escort them to new homes in northern states of their country, saved money from her own business efforts so that she could buy her freedom from the plantation owner and take other members of her family and community away from captivity.


XII, 138
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (October)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XII, 138 pp., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Joanne Kilgour Dowdy (Author)

Joanne Kilgour Dowdy is Professor of Literacy Studies at the College of Education Health and Human Services at Kent State University. In 2009, her book Ph.D. Stories: Conversations with My Sisters won the American Educational Research Association Narrative and Research SIG’s Outstanding Book Award.


Title: Minding Their Own Business
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152 pages