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The following article appeared recently in in The Washington Post:

Entrepreneur 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.

Margaret 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 wellness.

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


To purchase Margaret and John Dureke's books or for more information on JAHS, visit www.Jahspublishing.com or call 301-864-2800.

Other Recent News Stories...

Margaret Dureke featured in Sister 2 Sister Magazine, July 2003.

"Couple's JAHS Publishing Group looks to follow in the footsteps of successful fitness center," The Gazette Newspapers, October 24, 2002.

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