Ursula Burns Inspires Black Women Everywhere!

Sun, 3 Jan 2010 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

Black women – and men – everywhere could not hide their grin-tinged euphoria when they found out that Ursula Burns had been anointed in the summer of 2009 as the next Chief Executive Officer of Xerox, a veritable world leader in the production of office products. Burns’ rise, although not meteoric, is a classic example of what a good blend of determination and aspiration and hard work can do to the career of an individual. In fact, Burns represents every black woman who has ever fought against the despicable glass ceilings imposed by overbearing men of all skin colors and backgrounds in corporate boardrooms everywhere. At 50, Burns must feel very satisfied that her devotion to the growth of the aforementioned global giant has finally been recognized.

Burns was first hired by Xerox in 1980 as “a summer engineering intern” (New York Daily News, 2009). Twenty-two years later, she became president, after overseeing several important facets of the company’s growth, especially “overseas research and development, engineering, manufacturing and marketing” (New York Daily News, 2009). And in the summer of 2009, Burns became the Chief Executive Officer of Xerox. In fact, Burns is credited with transforming Xerox into the world’s largest manufacturer of modern office printers.

Burns’ story must be heard by every black girl in the U.S.A., Ghana and elsewhere, for such a gratifying story has the capacity to strengthen the resolve of any black girl who has been lied to that she faced the insurmountable “oppressors” of color and gender in her quest to achieve her career goals in life. Yes, there are still unfastened rungs, cleats or steps on the corporate ladder that black women – and men – must traverse to reach the very pinnacle of their chosen careers, but all these bottlenecks are surmountable in today's society! Even in cases where there were covert discriminatory practices by those at the helm of affairs, black women and men now have available to them conduits of “reparation” and restoration, enforceable by law.

Ursula Burns, by virtue of her ascent to the office of Chief Executive Officer of Xerox, is now ranked by Fortune magazine as the 10th most powerful woman (and second most influential African-American woman, behind only the well-known Oprah Winfrey) in the U.S.A.! Black women – from Harriet Tubman to my late grandmother, Dora Vehe, to every woman of color reading this piece – have always defied the odds in their quest to both sustain their families and perpetuate the black race. While a black woman could easily feed a family of four on, say, five dollars, it will be almost impossible for a black man to do the same thing, since black women have always had that special ability to do much with very little!

While a privileged background may provide wider doors for quicker success in life, even a narrower door of opportunity, at the outset, should no longer be an excuse for failure. Ursula Burns grew up in a New York housing project, but she overcame several odds – the absence of a father, poverty, a dangerous neighborhood – to become who she is today. Perhaps, the most notable lesson in Burns' odyssey is the importance of formal education – better still, high-quality education! – for that is the one thing that will certainly smash to smithereens every glass ceiling!

There is the story of a six-year-old boy who, while watching the evening news with his parents, heard the news anchor declare, “There is a serial bank robber on the loose … he has struck three times already.” Bewildered and exasperated, the boy began to shout, “The [news anchor] just declared that there is a bank robber who is going about stealing [boxes of ] cereal!” I could not help but laugh when I heard the story, but the lesson here is that, while the boy may get away with his inability to know the difference between “serial” and “cereal,” we the adults have no such excuse, which is why formal education is so important! Certainly, Ursula Burns will not be where she is today had she abandoned school and blamed it on her circumstances – skin color, poverty, a tough neighborhood.

We must work hard, make sacrifices, and prod our children to go where no mere mortals have ever trodden, for all things are possible to those who are determined! While there may be tremendous pain at the outset of any endeavor, we all ought to know that nothing notable was ever achieved without sustained effort. May Ursula Burns be an inspiration to all black people everywhere!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master's degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.