Stephanie Hightower… Helping Black Women Improve Their Earning Power And Build Wealth

Erica Thompson
The Columbus Dispatch

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Stephanie Hightower is president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League. Her organization was just awarded a grant from Goldman Sachs which will support the “Incubate Her” program. The program will take 30 Black women through a 12-week program to either open a new business or grow their current business.


A leading global financial institution has pledged to invest in Black women, and central Ohio will be one of the first places to benefit.

As part of its One Million Black Women initiative, Goldman Sachs has awarded the Columbus Urban League and the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio $50,000 each for programming.

Ultimately, the initiative will contribute $10 billion in investment capital and $100 million in philanthropic support to advance racial equity and economic opportunity — with a goal of reaching a least one million Black women. Twelve organizations across the country were selected for this first round of funding.

Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League, was excited to be chosen.

“It is unprecedented for a financial institution to make that kind of commitment specifically to Black women to help create new ways for them to improve their earning power and to help build wealth,” she said.

The grant will help the CUL with its Incubate Her program, which will take 30 Black women through a 12-week program to either open a new business or grow their current business.

The application for the first group of 10 participants is open through the end of the month, and can be accessed at

The program also will address the women’s housing, childcare and transportation needs to maximize success, said J. Averi Frost, program manager for the Urban League’s Minority Small Business Resiliency Initiative.

“We’re really trying to think of what barriers we can remove, especially because Black women are the fastest-growing sector of entrepreneurs in the country,” she said.

Incubate Her will be especially helpful, given the impact of the pandemic, Hightower added.

“There’s already the wage gap that is always in play for Black women,” she said. “COVID just exacerbated that. People wanted to go to work, but they couldn’t go to work because of their children. So, it did have a real ripple effect.”

Local One Million Black Women Ambassador Letha Pugh advocated for both CUL and the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, according to press releases from the organizations. The co-owner of Bake Me Happy, Pugh said she understands the challenges Black women entrepreneurs face personally and professionally.

Pugh is also on the board of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, which will use the grant for its Enduring Progressive Initiative, launched in January to address the funding gap for organizations benefitting women and girls of color.

“There’s all these women of color doing wonderful work and nonprofits to build equity, but nobody funds them,” said the Women’s Fund President and CEO Kelley Griesmer. “My job is to get them dollars if I can. We have been really lucky that we’ve had some visionary investors like Goldman Sachs who understand what we’re trying to do, and helped us build this first seed capital for our fund.”

Prior to Goldman Sachs’ involvement, the Women’s Fund awarded a $50,000 grant to Zora’s House, a coworking and community space for women of color, using money from its own endowment, along with initial investments from Crane Group and Kaiser Consulting.

“That’s the level of allyship and care and conviction that many organizations do not show,” said Zora’s House founder and CEO LC Johnson.

“There is work that’s happening here in Columbus that’s getting national recognition for how we’re working—not just for Black women, but with Black women—to make change.”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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