in the News
following article appeared recently in in The
Has Dreams to Spare
By Krissah Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 10, 2003; Page PG05
In a small commercial strip adjacent to Hyattsville's
City Hall, entrepreneur Margaret Dureke and her husband,
John, are operating four companies -- simultaneously.
Dureke, center, with Coleen Thompson, left, and Ursel
Douglas works out at her Hyattsville gymnasium, one
of the companies she helps run. Rafael Crisostomo
for The Washington Post
Margaret, a gregarious woman who immigrated
to Maryland from Nigeria in 1982, has fashioned a string
of small local companies. There's Jahs Fitness, a gymnasium
on Gallatin Street running through the center of Hyattsville.
In the fitness center's front window hang T-shirts and sweats
suits bearing the Jahs logo designed by Dureke and manufactured
in Nigeria. On a small table in the gymnasium's tiny lobby
sit copies of books written and published by the Durekes.
If you stick around long enough, Margaret will pull out
a brochure advertising Jahs O' Couture Fashion -- her line
of African head wraps and dresses.
"They are all my babies," she said. "I'm
always thinking what are people doing, what makes them successful?"
The couple -- who said they were led to launch
their own businesses by their desire to work for themselves
-- are part of a growing Nigerian population in Prince George's.
Nigerians are the fourth-largest immigrant group in the
county, with more than 4,600 Nigerian immigrants living
here, census figures show.
The Durekes' companies draw heavily on their
African heritage. The businesses are not all profitable.
The fitness center is the primary moneymaker and supports
the Durekes as they attempt to launch their other dreams.
The gym began in a small College Park basement
in 1994, and they initially used their credit cards to finance
it. John Dureke continued working as a corrections officer
for the District government to support the family -- they
have three children ages 14, 11 and 16 months -- and Margaret
went without new clothes and shoes for three years to save
money for the burgeoning business.
"We had no business plan," Margaret said.
"We didn't even know what a business plan was. We were struggling."
Five years ago, they opened the center in
Hyattsville and now have more than 100 customers. Since
then, the Durekes also have been building spin-off businesses,
and John Dureke stopped working as a corrections officer
to devote his time to the family enterprises. The idea for
the athletic clothing line came about when Margaret made
a few T-shirts to try to attract new gym members. A few
people asked her where they could purchase her T-shirt,
which displayed the word Jahs and the outline of a stately
athletic figure. Jahs translates to Jehovah God in Ibo,
the Durekes's native Nigerian language.
The fashion line emerged similarly. At a
Baptist church convention in Louisville, Ky., Margaret donned
her handmade African attire and immediately got inquiries
from women interested in buying her clothes. A new business
was born. She also supplements the family income with speaking
engagements, such as a recent lecture she gave at the Washington
Hospital Center about how to take a holistic approach to
The book publishing arm came about when Margaret
wanted to tell the story of her life -- including the ups
and downs of running her own business, such as being promised
loans that never materialized. She wrote "How to Succeed
Against All Odds," and decided not to look for a book agent
and instead self-published it. It retails for $14.95.
"I don't believe in giving away your power,"
Margaret said of the decision.
The publishing house is still more fun than
business. The Durekes donate as many books as they sell.
John has written a couple of children's books as well.
Both Margaret and John, who live in Riverdale,
are from eastern Nigeria, but they did not meet until they
immigrated to the United States as young adults in the early
1980s. When they met, Margaret was attending Howard University
and John was studying for his master's degree at the New
York Institute of Technology. After they were married, Margaret
graduated from law school at American University in 1989,
the same year her first daughter was born.
Quitting her profession after grueling law
school coursework was a difficult decision.
"It wasn't an easy journey," Margaret said.
"There was no security in it. People say how can you make
it without a pay check every two weeks? I believe, if you
sacrifice, it will eventually work out. What I do now, I
get a lot of joy out of it."
The fitness center has grown from Dureke and
three others exercising in a small College Park basement
to the current facility, which holds a range off classes
-- including Reggae Aerobics and Afro Kick-boxing. Dureke,
who was once weighed 260 pounds, said her struggle with
her weight gives her a passion for the business.
"When something happens to you, turn it around
and let it become a blessing," she said.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
purchase Margaret and John Dureke's books or for more information
on JAHS, visit www.Jahspublishing.com
or call 301-864-2800.