An aunt had a restaurant in Belle Glade; she worked there. An uncle was foreman for a labor camp; she worked there. Her mother had a grocery store in Riviera Beach; she worked there.
Since then, Tarra Pressey has traveled the world. Each year, her nonprofit organization flies 30 girls – much like the girl she once was – everywhere from college tours to Congress while exposing them to myriad possibilities.
Pressey owns and operates airport concession businesses in four different markets: Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Atlantic City.
Yet referring to her native Riviera Beach, and her mother’s hometown of Belle Glade, she says, “I’m just a black girl from The Raw by way of The Muck.”
The CEO of Tarra Pressey Enterprises shared some of her story with several dozen local entrepreneurs at a July 15 “Chamber Chat.”
The event was hosted by the Palm Beach County Black Chamber of Commerce, and took place, suitably, in her golf-themed Sam Snead’s Tavern at the Beach International Airport.
This is one of as many as 30 businesses that she owns. How to stay fresh and current in today’s changing business and economic environment was the focus of her exchange of ideas with the chamber group.
“She’s always had aspirations to do good,” said Melvin Williams, president of Melawil Cleaning and Restoration, an indoor air-quality business.
Williams, who said he has known Pressey since she was 16 and working part-time at a department store after school, and who introduced her at the chamber gathering, told the South Florida Times:
“Among all the young ladies, she was a perfect model then, so it’s not surprising to me that she turned out to be a perfect model in the community now. I don’t know how she does it. It’s always hard to please everyone in business, and she seems to do that so well.”
Pressey, 41, of Riviera Beach, outlined the strategies she tries to use: Obtain broad exposure, forge diverse ties, think entrepreneurially, position yourself to prosper, and give back generously.
The latter is what she has been doing with her Girls II Women, Inc., a non-profit that provides life-changing training and experiences — etiquette to education, culture to travel — for underserved young ladies from Belle Glade, Riviera Beach and Pleasant City in West Palm Beach.
Some of the girls attend Riviera’s John F. Kennedy Middle School and Suncoast High School, as Pressey did.
This year, the college tour took them to Memphis, Tn. Their connecting stop in Atlanta allowed Pressey to highlight the people traveling all over the world: “They got to look at the monitors and see that people were going to Korea, Austria.”
Two years ago, the group was hosted by U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the majority whip. In addition, the late U.S. Rep. Stephanie Jones Tubbs, the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress from Ohio, was speaker that day. She invited the girls onto the floor of the chamber.
“They could see people like them and it was extremely rewarding. I get it, having had their experience. I was in their place when I went to JFK,” said the Tuskegee University graduate.
Her own role model is Lou Ella Jordan, her mother and also an accomplished businesswoman.
“I’m in the place that I am because of my mom,’’ she said. “So I think it is important for every generation to get to that next level. There’s no way you can’t do it if you’re given the roadmap. And that’s what I was given.”
Asked what books she has read, or is reading, she quickly cited This Child Will Be Great, the memoir by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia’s — and Africa’s — first elected woman president: “Late in her life she held public office, and has made a huge contribution based on her life experiences in education and economics.”
Her “favorite books in the whole world” are a biography and a fictional book about Sarah Breedlove — the hair-care entrepreneur and philanthropist who by 1917 had the largest African-American owned business in the United States.
Although more popularly known as Madame C.J. Walker — after her former husband Charles Joseph Walker — Pressey doesn’t refer to her “by a man’s name.”
Breedlove’s rags-to-riches tale “is an amazing story,” Pressey said. “I probably relate to her because she had one daughter, like my mother. She provided jobs for women who had never worked before, improving their self-esteem and the community in general.”
Today’s cosmetics mogul Mary Kay, “duplicated her process, her system. It’s one of the finest American stories,” she said, noting the fictional account The Black Rose, by former Miami Herald writer Tananarive Due.
When a chamber member at the July 15 meeting asked whether she has any political aspirations, she responded, “I really don’t.”
But there are a lot of opportunities that her city “is missing out on,” she said. “So it is in the back of mind, maybe when I’m retired. My goal is to give back.”
“Although I don’t have political aspirations,” she added later in an interview, “I do know politicians. The best part of knowing the minority whip was him hosting those girls. Those things are important to me because they help me in helping the community.”
In a few days, Pressey will join other high-powered entrepreneurs in an informal dinner at the home of one of their members in Washington, D.C. A top official in President Obama’s administration is due to make an appearance.
Not long ago, she joined other African-American women, “all at the top of their game,” in a session with Florida Chief Financial Officer and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink. She recently held a fundraiser in her home for U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
In the meanwhile, say 10 years from now?
“My goal is to create generational wealth. My goal is to create true business enterprises that will be here after I’m gone. If in 100 years Tarra Enterprises is still here, I will have accomplished my goal with something I started.”
Here are Tarra Pressey’s keys to success, also known as “Pressey’s Five:”
1. “Obtain broad exposure to many ideas, to many people and to many backgrounds. Exposure includes being adventurous. I love to do things I’ve never done before. It helps me to grow.”
2. “Forging diverse ties in family and professional life. Sometimes it’s about who you know.”
3. “Always try to think entrepreneurially while acting resourcefully. Having vision for what I want to accomplish. I am resourceful in how I get things done. I think big, I dream big, and I trust my crazy ideas.”
4. “I try to position myself to prosper. I value education and will always be a student. I spend a lot of time reading and online because information is power. I attend world-class events where there are other business-minded people.”
5. “And lastly I give back generously by creating jobs and providing opportunities for those that will follow me. Having wealth is nice but I believe to truly be successful you have to give something back.”
Photo: Tarra Pressey