Ursula Burns: No One is Immune to Living the American Dream

May 2 - Sarah Ashlock

FIRST THOUGHT: Change is Here

Today, we’re talking about women of color, particularly black women. I decided to fill your weekend with a list of the top movies to watch featuring black actresses. (You’re welcome).

Daughters of Dust came out in 1991 and was, if you can believe it, the first theatrical release to be led by a black woman director. Set It Off is another 90s movie, featuring the Queen Latifah. Be sure to add Akeelah and the Bee to the list and, of course, Sister Act. I dare you to not have the epic song “I Will Follow Him” stuck in your head. What are some of your favorite movies?


Women of color deserve more recognition in the media, because, you know, equality. But also, stories must reflect those who told them. By 2060, the majority of American women will be women of color. So, maybe we can hold off on another all-White time-period film. Mr. Darcy’s overrated, anyway.


Ursula Burns agrees. She leads an international telecom company called VEON. Today’s Woman to Watch is a true version of the American Dream. She grew up in a New York City housing project, and was raised by a single mother who emigrated from Panama. After going to an all-girls high school, Ursula earned degrees in mechanical engineering.

She started at Xerox in the summer of 1980 as an intern, and 29 years later, she became CEO. One of her major accomplishments has been an acquisition that transformed the company from a copy and printing company to what it’s known for today. Over the course of those three decades, Ursula witnessed the course of technology, which went from virtually nonexistent, to a luxury, to a necessity.

As VEON embraces technology to become more advanced in the digital age, Ursula says that it’s a time that embraces change. As a kid, Ursula recalls feeling like she had three strikes against her: she was a girl; she was black; and she was poor. But there’s something that has stuck with Ursula after all these years. It’s something her mother ingrained in her: If you have an opinion, you should speak up. You have a voice; use it.

Ursula used that voice during the Obama administration, when the former president appointed her to lead the national STEM program, and also chair his Export Council. NBD. Whether sitting in front of the first black president or leading a company with more than 200 million customers, Ursula makes her journey look easy-breezy.

Part of what Ursula has learned over the course of her career is that people are just people. When she was an assistant to executives, Ursula witnessed first-hand that the higher-ups didn’t have some secret talent; they worked hard and had good outcomes. Why couldn’t Ursula do the same? And, look: She has.


Beyonce said,

"We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead."

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