S4-EP18: A’lelia Bundles on Legacy, Leadership, and Growing Bolder at 70

Jun 3, 2022


Debbie talks to A’Lelia Bundles, one of her most accomplished classmates from the Harvard/Radcliffe class of 1974. They’ve been friends for almost 50 years.



Today, Debbie Weil talks to A’Lelia Bundles: her college classmate and friend of almost 50 years. 

A’Lelia, or LeLe, as her friends call her, is an award-winning journalist, author, historian, biographer, speaker and nonprofit leader. She speaks at conferences, colleges, and corporations about entrepreneurship, philanthropy, historic preservation, financial literacy and women’s and African American history. She calls herself a truth seeker. She’s also distinguished by her warm and humorous style. It’s infectious, as you’ll hear.

She and Debbie are both members of the Harvard/Radcliffe class of 1974. (Another notable member of their class is Merrick Garland,  United States Attorney General.)

A’lelia is the great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker, the 19th century hair-care entrepreneur, activist, and philanthropist, and the first black woman millionaire in America. 

She is the author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, a New York Times Notable Book and the definitive biography of her trailblazing great-great grandmother. 

Self Made, the fictional Netflix series starring Octavia Spencer, is “inspired by” (although not factually based upon) her biography.

A’lelia is at work on her fifth book, The Joy Goddess of Harlem: A’Lelia Walker and the Harlem Renaissance, about her great-grandmother whose parties, arts patronage and travels helped define the era. 

A former network television news executive and producer at ABC News and NBC News, she is a vice chair emerita of Columbia University’s Board of Trustees and chair emerita of the board of the National Archives Foundation. She is the founder of the Madam Walker Family Archives, the largest private collection of Walker documents, photographs and memorabilia.

Debbie and A’Lelia talk about not retiring, the pain of writing a book, and the importance of community and friends – especially the women in their college class. They discuss the legacy she wants to leave as a black woman and what she is looking forward to as she turns 70. 


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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


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Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."