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The HistoryMakers Launches its WomanMakers Initiative With $1 Million Gift from Ursula Burns

At the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice in New York City on January 31st, Ursula Burns, retired Xerox CEO and current VEON CEO, presented a check for one million dollars to visionary attorney, Julieanna Richardson, Founder and President of The HistoryMakers, to help launch The WomanMakers Initiative and Advisory Board. 

The HistoryMakers is comprised of the nation's largest African-American video oral history collection, and the $1 million check donated at last month's luncheon will allow the addition of 180 interviews of leading African-American women to The HistoryMakers Collection, which is housed permanently in the Library of Congress. Richardson declared 2020, which is the Year of the Woman, as the Year of the Black Woman, and stressed her desire to increase the number of women represented in the HistoryMakers archive, which currently has 800 fewer women than men. 

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Mrs. Burns was the first African American woman to serve as CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she rose from a Xerox intern to its CEO. She currently serves as chair of The WomanMakers Advisory Board along with its Honorary Chair Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Chair and President of the National Council of Negro Women. Burns' gift was made in honor of her late husband, Lloyd F. Bean, retired Xerox scientist and inventor. "The HistoryMakers has been at the forefront of recording the history of African-Americans for many years," said Burns. "We must continue to support their efforts and help provide the resources to ensure that the legacy of black women is preserved and presented with truth, honor, and integrity."

This inaugural luncheon included over 100 distinguished African-American female leaders from the worlds of the arts, business, education, civics, law, science, medicine, the military, entertainment, sports, music, the media, politics, religion, and fashion and beauty. I am proud to be among the members of The WomanMakers Advisory Committee, many of whom were in attendance, including Dr. Wanda M. Austin, former CEO of the Aerospace Corporation; Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the 15th U.S. Surgeon General; Andrea Frazier, philanthropist and interior designer; Thelma Golden, museum director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem; Bethann Hardison, fashion activist and consultant; Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Cheryl Boone Isaacs, former President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences; Michele S. Jones, the 9th Command Sgt. Maj. of U.S. Army Reserve; Jonelle Procope, President and CEO of the Apollo Theater; Carla Harris, Investment banker; Susan L. Taylor, former Essence magazine editor and CEO of National CARES Mentoring; and Womanist professors and scholars Paula J. Giddings of Smith College, and Beverly Guy-Sheftall of Spelman College.

Members of The HistoryMakers’ WomanMakers Advisory Committee (Photo Credit: Rowena Husbands)

Darren Walker, the President of the Ford Foundation, hosted the luncheon, which was also attended by New York City’s First Lady Chirlane McCray, Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama, and businesswoman and philanthropist Loida Lewis. At the luncheon, Richardson emphasized the crisis and urgency of preserving the Black historical record. 

"African American history and culture is at a critical crossroads," Richardson said. "We are at risk of losing 20th-century documentation within ten to fifteen years. Burns’ million-dollar gift has made it possible for us to move forward with the selection process to secure many significant interviews with black women. We are profoundly grateful to Ursula for her belief and support of us."

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Coincidentally, after the luncheon I was privileged to attend the preview unveiling of a sculpture of Sojourner Truth by acclaimed artist Vinnie Bagwell at her loft. You can see the image of Ms. Bagwell's sculpture in the video below. To attend both of these events on the same day was overwhelming in a good way. 

You can visit the official site of The HistoryMakers here and view their archive here.

Header photo caption: (Left to Right) Darren Walker, President of The Ford Foundation; Ursula Burns, Retired Xerox CEO and current VEON CEO; Julieanna Richardson, Founder and President of The HistoryMakers (Photo Credit: Rowena Husbands)

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