Up From Poverty

Ursula Burns, the former CEO of Xerox, is the first black female to head a Fortune 500 company.  As a child, however, people told her that she faced three almost insurmountable obstacles: she was poor, black, and female.  Burns repudiates the common assertion that “if you don’t have [it it’s because] you didn’t try hard enough.”

Burns was reared in a public housing project in New York City’s Lower East Side by a single mother who worked several jobs to support her three children. Her mother never earned more than $4,400 in a year.

Burns could not have climbed the ladder of success, she insists, without lots of help.  She heeded her mother’s advice to ask for help and to accept support from family members, friends, neighbors, government organizations, and nonprofits.  Public and private institutions helped her achieve her dreams.

Today, however, Burns protests, from healthcare to education, we are removing these supports.  The quality of schooling children receive depends substantially on the income of their parents and where they live.

Burns urges today’s children who are growing up in circumstances similar to the ones she confronted to ask for help and be willing to accept it when it is offered.  We don’t have to be Bill or Melinda Gates, Burns argues, to help children.  She exhorts each of us to mentor a child to help him or her rise up from poverty.  We can also volunteer with an organization that works to aid low-income children.

Gary SmithComment