Ursula Burns is a fascinating figure; she was the first black female CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. Considering her background, this was an amazing feat. As a child of a single parent immigrant she grew up with plenty of love but barely enough money. Her poverty made her rise to CEO more challenging because she had limited resources and options for her education and she had to worry about things other more affluent children did not have to concern themselves with like rat infested lodgings and drug users outside her home.
At the time of this post, since January 2022 I’ve read nearly 100 books and many of them are autobiographies of African Americans. Every one of them with the exception of Will Smith’s WILL and Kobe Bryant in MAMBA MENTALITY (MAMBA MENTALITY was not autobiographical per se) starts the same way. The African-American autobiographer had to endure the challenges of poverty and racism. Will Smith had to endure the challenges of racism but he came from a home where his father provided more than enough resources for his family. I can’t shake this observation. In the United States often African-Americans, in particular, have to overcoming incredible odds just to get positions and resources promised in the American dream. If someone acts as if race is irrelevant in the success of an individual in the United States they overlook facts of this society. Yes, these individuals show it is possible to overcome the challenges Black people face and United States. But, like DL Hughly says in his book SURRENDER, WHITE PEOPLE Black people should be able to just be average and get plenty in the land of plenty. Yet, Black people, as it stands today, must be exceptional to get plenty or even average amounts in the land of plenty.
I appreciate this book because Ursula Burns shows what it takes to move to the highest positions in business. However, I will expose my bias here. I feel that Ursula Burns gives corporations too much credit. Burns says corporations help push society forward with their treatment of people of color, women, and LGTBQ. Corporations in my estimation are not leading the charge in social reform they are making decisions that improve their bottom line and because they are global they must at minimum in messaging embrace the whole of humanity. Their leadership even according to Burns does not reflect an embrace of humanity as a whole considering most of the leadership of corporations specifically fortune 500 corporations are white male still.
Nonetheless, her message still comes through powerfully. Her message is in the title of this book where you are is not who you are. These are words her mother spoke to her when she was young because her mother wanted her to know that just because she lived in the ghetto did not mean she internally is poor and destitute. Her refusal to allow her conditions to determine her outcomes which is the case for far too many Black people in the United States is evident in her rise to lead a fortune 500 company and her presence on many boards across the nation.