“I didn’t think, when I walked into the company, that I would be the CEO. I did expect to be successful though.” These words were spoken by the empowering Ursula Burns. Burns wears many hats, but the one that she’s best known for is being the CEO of Xerox. Burns is the first black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. While Burns will tell you, “This is not really a good thing to celebrate,” from 2009 to 2016 she was the first and only black woman to wear this corporate crown in America’s history. Burns serves on the boards of American Express, Exxon Mobil, Diageo, Nestle, and Uber. Through her hard work, she acquired another CEO position from 2018 to 2020 with Veon, a company that serves Eurasian countries to deliver digital communications. She is a mechanical engineer by training, graduating from what was then called Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute (now NYU Engineering) and earned her master’s degree from Columbia University.
Burns spent her childhood in tenement housing on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There was no stopping Burns despite being told by many people that she wouldn’t make it because she was black, a girl, and was poor. It is my belief, if artist Jean-Michel Basquiat were still alive, Basquiat would paint Burns, drawing his famous crown motif above her head as she is an iconic symbol of greatness.
Burns’ story fuels the ‘grit’ valve in me. Burns inspires me to get out there, knock those mountains down and counteract my own negative inertia and cowardice. No matter what I pursue there will be obstacles big and small, devastating and inconsequential, and everything in between. The difference between me and the next guy will be how hard I am willing to work and persevere to overcome. I am provided with unlimited potential and power as I work hard, overcome obstacles, find original ways to think about all of these new technologies in the building construction industry and how to apply them.
Burns’ success has taught me many lessons, one being, my life has to follow the words of musician Gil Scott-Heron, “The revolution will not be televised” it is all about me doing something about it. The revolution has to be around the current state, around negativity, lack of access, making a world that’s more inclusive, better, and balanced. Burns motivates me to figure out ways to eradicate food deserts in communities, build sustainable affordable dwellings, and figure out ways to have better discourse than we have today. Another lesson is, I must leave behind more than I take. There is plenty to do and I am passionate about helping this world figure it out. I am April King, seeking resources in ‘exchange’ for additional working mileage to complete my journey.