The art of storytelling has been around for over thirty thousand years. Whether it be in the form of pictures or words, everyone enjoys a delightful story. Ersula Odom is committed to sharing the historical stories of others, so that their message and impact on this world will not be forgotten. She shares her own personal story of how she came to establish her own publishing company.
“Pursue your dream at all costs to your emotional state, at any given moment.”
In Georgia, you spent much of your early years living with your grandmother Ursula. How did her vibrant life, and family history, inspire you and influence your life’s journey?
The sailboat that I am, is a composite of the DNA of my mother and father. The person who taught me how to navigate it was my grandmother, Ursula Stephens. The memory of her wisdom, laughter and overall good nature is etched into my very being.
I hear her words. I am motivated to live up to her expectations of me being “a blessed child.” I am her namesake and I carry that as a badge of honour.
After spending your 20-year career at GTE Data Services – working your way up, from junior programmer to the manager of systems – what made you switch gears and become an entrepreneur?
I saw a photograph of Grandmother sitting on the steps of her grocery store (before my time), which gave me a clue that I could also become an entrepreneur. At least, I could be what Grandmother said I could be, “Anything I put my mind to.”
At GTEDS they instructed us to use our “entrepreneurial spirit,” which I did for them and then for myself. I have fond memories of my time at GTEDS and remain proud of my team’s progressive accomplishment. I was moved to take the leap by a desire to achieve that spirit for myself as I had done for GTEDS.
The biggest obstacle that I have had to overcome, as an entrepreneur, was being able to do for myself that I have done for others. While working for corporate America, you have positional authority, and you simply tell people what to do. When you work for yourself, it is more about collaboration, and self-responsibility. As, when all else fails, you must get the job done yourself.
It is only when you reach a certain level of confidence in yourself, that collaboration can happen. I am in that space now and it feels good. My advice to others is know what you want and have faith in that. Pursue your dream at all costs to your emotional state, at any given moment.
You mention that history is an essential part of who you are today, as it has helped you “make a difference in other people’s lives.” Does this relate to the passion you have for writing about African American history?
History gives you a foundation on which to build your dreams. It gives you a roadmap, where you can determine what route to take, which stops to make, and where you want to create a new path for the future.
The first memory I have is crawling under my grandmother’s bed and retrieving a cigar box with old photos, letters, stamps, and her sister’s hair. I have been fascinated with the stories behind ephemera to this day. That love is what gave rise to my first two books, At Sula’s Feet and African Americans of Tampa.
I am driven to help the average and ordinary person publish their stories. I have recently opened Ersula’s History Shop and I am currently forming a non-profit, dedicated to capturing and preserving stories that are at risk of never being told.
My legacy walls are room-sized murals that position my clients to educate as they decorate. Chole Coney, my latest legacy wall client, coined a new tagline; she said, “When I have gone on to glory, the wall will continue to tell my story.” I celebrate that she is enjoying it to the fullest and is now using it to fundraise for her non-profit.
What made you establish a publishing company?
During my tenure as a manager of Systems Documentation and Training for GTEDS, I enjoyed the concept of having an “entrepreneurial spirit.” After publishing my first book, At Sula’s Feet, I was asked to write a memoir for a local legend. I wrote and published The Doris Ross Reddick’s Story. Resultantly, I merged the two experiences and decided to establish my company.
Sula Too Publishing seeks to publish stories that are at risk of never being told. If the people who lived the experience do not tell the story, we may never know their truth. Thus, the most desired publishable stories are those shared by average and ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.
You have portrayed the life of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune in several scripted performances that you have developed. What were your main highlights of this experience and why did Dr. Bethune’s life story intrigue you?
Dr. Bethune is the epitome of doing anything you put your mind to, from the time she was born until the day she died. She made the world a better place everywhere she went. She went from being a child of former enslaved parents to advising US presidents, founding a college, to now having her statue scheduled to be installed in Statuary Hall in the Nation’s Capital (July 2022).
What I enjoy most about betraying Dr. Bethune is that she is an example of what excellence is. At every age, she did something extraordinary. She was never too young nor too old to make a difference.
I continue to learn from her with every performance, every question asked of me and the responses that I must give to those questions. She lives in me and the people that I tell her story to.