Wanna know a pet peeve I have with our Divine Nine organizations? We’re great at listing all of the notable achievers from the era when television was broadcast in black and white, but we’re terrible at spotlighting current members who are breaking barriers in HD. Sure, we all know that so and so did this and that in order to make sure that we no longer have to sit in the colored section, or be called colored for that matter. But the question often asked is whether we’re still nurturing achievers today. I say yes, and that’s why I’m launching a series called You Should Know This… where I’ll profile Divine Nine members who are making their mark today. And today’s subject is Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority member and Mary Kay National Sales Director, Caterina Harris.
Now for full disclosure, I’ve known Caterina like forever, and when I say she’s my sister, I don’t just mean in the Alpha/AKA way. She’s my stromie, my gurl, and is even responsible for introducing me to my wife over two decades ago. So I always take great delight in dropping her name to any random Mary Kay consultant I run into.
“Do you know Caterina Harris?” I’ll ask casually. “She’s my friend, you know.”
The consultant’s eyes will inevitably widen and their mouth will drop, as though I’d told them that I was President Obama and I’d like them to come to the White House for dinner. You see, Caterina is sorta a big deal. A really big deal in Mary Kay.
“It all began when I was looking to make some money for grad school at USC,” Caterina remembers. “I met a Mary Kay recruiter while I was working for a non profit youth program.”
That was over twenty years ago, and this five-foot dynamo rapidly rose through the ranks of Mary Kay, becoming first a consultant, and then a director, and now, the first black National Sales Director west of Texas. With only 300 members, National Sales Director is this highest rank in Mary Kay. And again, that makes Caterina a big deal.
For those unfamiliar, Mary Kay is a multi level cosmetics company founded by Dallas entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash, who started the cosmetics company in 1963, after having been passed over for a promotion because she was a woman. In the era of Mad Men, Mary Kay Ash’s idea that any woman should be able to own a business was revolutionary at the time, and is what attracted Caterina.
“I found that my niche in life is to empower women, particularly black women,” Caterina said, a graduate of Mills College in Oakland, an all women college that stresses empowering women. “Women work in Mary Kay for a season, a reason, and therefore a lifetime. In the past twenty years, I’ve help thousands of women, and helped train on the corporate level. I think my secret is that I don’t particularly have a knack for sales, but I’m comfortable in my own skin.”
With millions of pink clad Mary Kay consultants around the world holding skin care classes and operating their own Mary Kay businesses, Mary Kay annually sells over $2.5 billion dollars worth of cosmetics and skin care products.
Caterina, who is deeply religious, believes that she’s doing God’s work by fulfilling her potential in Mary Kay. Her priorities are God, Family and then Mary Kay. And she feels that you only get where you want to go by helping others reach their goals.
“Give me one year with a part time consultant and you may end up like me, hanging out 20 years later,” Caterina said. Right now, she has over 1000 Mary Kay consultants and directors under her tutelage. “But even if it’s just for one year, I can guarantee that you’ll be more driven and focused toward your career, financial and personal goals.”
Oh, and what about those famous pink Cadillac’s Mary Kay is known for giving their top producers?
“I’ve had twelve and right now I’m driving my pink Cadillac XRL,” she laughs. “In April, I’ll get lucky number 13, a pink Cadillac Escalade.”
Pink seems to suit this AKA, and the green that comes with a successful career ain’t bad either.
Contact Lawrence Ross on Twitter: @alpha1906
Contact Lawrence Ross via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.