The Cake

What I’ve Learned About Family Business Values

The art of negotiation is just one of the life lessons my Korean mother and African American father instilled in me

Denise Woodard
Published in
4 min readOct 10, 2019
A photo of a mixed-race woman in a business meeting with another woman.
Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

FFamily isn’t always about blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs, the ones who accept you for who you are, the ones who show up for you, and who love you.

My African American father left his tiny hometown of Goochland, Virginia when he was 17, never having been on an airplane, but knowing that he wanted to see the world. He joined the U.S. Army, and shortly after was stationed in postwar South Korea where he met my Korean mother, who worked serving food in the mess hall — the military cafeteria.

They fell in love, she moved back to the United States with him, and she was disowned by her family in the process because of my father’s race. Her parents died when she was a teenager, but she didn’t hear from anyone in her family for nearly 18 years, all because she chose to marry a Black man. My father’s side of the family was so welcoming to my mother, and, over the course of her life, my mother made a few good friends that are like family, which taught me that surrounding yourself with people you love and who unconditionally love you is really what defines a family.

“Success is no accident.” –Pelé

My parents settled in Fayetteville, North Carolina, which is where I spent my entire childhood. After leaving the Army, my dad became an over-the-road truck driver, which caused him to be gone for weeks at a time living out of his vehicle. My mom—with no family, no friends, and barely able to speak English — was alone with me, a toddler at the time, for weeklong spells. She took the initiative to teach herself English by reading me comics and watching the evening news. It taught me at a young age that when you have a difficult situation, you don’t complain; you do whatever is in your power to improve your surroundings. Never in my life have I heard my mother wallow in her sorrows.

You’re never too small to negotiate

Fayetteville is home to Fort Bragg, one of the country’s largest military bases, and a large…



Denise Woodard
Writer for

Mom, Wife, Founder of Partake.