Local Black History: Carolyn Chism-Hardy

Local Black History

When we think about black history, our minds automatically go back to civil rights pioneers like Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior and Rosa Parks.

But there are some living legends that are blazing trails today.

People like Memphis born and raised native, Carolyn Chism-Hardy.

She is the recipient of the Economic Excellence and Equality Award. An award given to someone who has improved the lives of girls and women in Tennessee.

“We’re gonna all have to do something different,” Chism-Hardy said.

Different may be the best way to describe Carolyn Chism-Hardy, the new chair of the Memphis Chamber. She has been different and making a difference in the Bluff City for quite some time.

“We blazed these trails for the young people, so when they come, the next generation that comes along, they don’t have to blaze the same trails.  That’s black history to me,” Chism-Hardy said.

Chism-Hardy knows a few things about black history. She has made history herself more than once. At Smuckers, she went from an accountant to plant manager.

“I convinced Smuckers through my leadership that black women could provide the value and the service that they were accustomed to.  I opened that door, and that’s called black history,” Chism-Hardy said.

At Coors, as this headline reads, she went from a minority worker to a majority owner.

“I contend that poverty also prepares you for business because think about it, you have to do a lot with a little.  You know pennies make dollars okay,” Chsim-Hardy said.

Chism-Hardy knows all about pennies. She grew up in Orange Mound. She’s the 7th of 16 children. They moved 13 times in 12 years because their parents couldn’t pay the bills.

“When you come from poverty and the hood as they say, ah, my attitude is you don’t think I can win, watch me,” Chism-Hardy said. “My life has been about how do we get better. You know how we position ourselves to be what I call the gold standard.  And the gold standard for me is I want to know what normal looks like, and I want to be better than that.”

Which is why she said she took on a new role at the Memphis Chamber.

“If poverty and women and minority businesses and increasing the middle class is the agenda, I’m your girl.  I said if that’s not your agenda, I’m not your girl. I’m the first female, black chair of the chamber,” Chism-Hardy said.

And Carolyn Chism-Hardy has this advice for not just black women, but for all people.

“Be bold. Don’t sit back and wait for something to be handed to you because even in 2016, it will not be handed to you,” Chism-Hardy said. 

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