How did you first get involved in your business?
Welcome to our special interview series, Black Owned Businesses in the Spotlight, where we highlight successful businesses that are doing amazing things. We believe in a concept that says “you have to see it, to seize it.” No longer will we wait for others to acknowledge us, we take responsibility in being our biggest cheerleaders (customers and raving fans).
Lemi-Ola is a trailblazer in the Education industry. She provides parents coaching and fosters students’ academic achievement through the advancement of cognitive brain development and critical thinking skills. Here’s what Lemi shared with I Am Beautiful 365 about being a Black Woman in Business.
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How did you first get involved in your business?
I’ve always been curious about the human brain and the learning potential of brain development. Prior to founding The Critical Thinking Child, I worked in the healthcare field for 25 years, and I thought about learning potential often.
As my own kids began to grow and learn, I wanted the best possible education for them. I knew my children were bright, and so I sought to enroll my son in a gifted kindergarten program. To my surprise, he was rejected.
That was the first time I remember feeling disappointed and embarrassed about my skills as a parent. I felt as though I’d failed my son. As my twin daughters neared kindergarten age, I worried I would fail them, too.
Determined not to give up, I made it my mission to research fun and effective learning strategies I could implement at home. As I sought to navigate their education a key question stuck in my head: How can children — even those who are underserved and underrepresented — reach their full academic potential?
I had a hunch that with the right resources, teaching, and roadmap, it was possible. But I quickly realized that my at-home activities wasted a lot of time doing the right things the wrong way. I discovered that the true meaning of “giftedness” was less about ticking skills off a checklist and more about guiding them to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.
As I worked with my own children, more and more parents began asking for support with theirs. It was then that I realized how many parents struggle to find good, quality resources to help their children learn. These parents had plenty information about what their child should know, but no access to a roadmap or strategies to help their child discover how to learn.
And that’s when it happened — my hobby shifted into a business and I dedicated my life to helping parents avoid that feeling of guilt I experienced with my son.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in business?
Finding balance. I didn’t want to fail as a parent or as a business owner, and I didn’t want to sacrifice one for the other. I had to find a way to overcome the overwhelm and be present for my family while also juggling the responsibility of being a business owner.
It’s been difficult and overwhelming at times. Often I have to coordinate meetings around school events and programs, and sometimes I have to say no. The good news is that it gets easier each day as I gain more experience with both parenting and entrepreneurship.
What advice would you give someone thinking about going into business for themselves?
One of the greatest lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone.
In my case, that meant that I had to learn the tech. And if technology is your weak point, it’s worth taking the time to get a handle on it. You don’t have to be the next Steve Jobs, but a lack of knowledge in this area can make you vulnerable to making rookie mistakes and wasting a lot of time and money.
Learning the foundational tools that come with running a successful business (and keeping up with them!) is vital. As a business owner, these hard skills are no longer optional. You want to have a working knowledge of these pieces of your business and stay up-to-date on changes that are specific to your industry, so you can make more informed decisions.
It’s not hard to find the resources that will help you gain these skills. Join a business growth center, attend a MeetUp group, listen to a podcast, or find a class in your area or online that will help you fill in the gaps.
Who is your role model/mentor and why? Do you think it’s important to have a role model/mentor?
I’ve had many mentors throughout my life, and during this entrepreneurial journey. They shift based on my needs at any given time, but I’ve found it’s always important to have someone in my corner. We all need guidance, no matter what phase of business we’re at. Often a mentor can provide vital feedback and help you make smart decisions. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when you can have the support of someone who has been there.
What’s your story/background?
I’ve always been passionate about education, and that passion has only grown since founding The Critical Thinking Child. A Chicago native, I’ve made it my life’s mission to help busy, overwhelmed parents access the tools and resources that will allow them to guide their children to a lifelong love of learning.
In addition to The Critical Thinking Child, I also founded the Children’s Reading Foundation of Greater Chicago, where I collaborate with community partners to provide literacy support and free books. I also had the honor of receiving the 2016 President Barack Obama Lifetime Achievement Award for Volunteer Service. I have a Master’s degree from Rush University in Chicago and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, as well as specialized training in critical thinking from the University of Edinburgh.
Today, I speak at schools and conferences nationwide, create teaching tools and online courses for parents, and host fun learning events for kids. I’m dedicated to helping busy parents foster critical thinking skills at home and help their child love learning, for life. I encourage parents with school- aged children to get started with my five minute quiz to find out how their child learns best.
If you would like to connect with Lemi-Ola, you can connect with her via
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PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the I Am Beautiful 365, affiliates or partners.