“I learned about modeling on the job, and I had a system. Remember that most people didn’t think that I spoke English, so I devised a system where I didn’t say much. People freely talked in front of me, and I listened as I went along and learned how to maneuver this minefield that is fashion, because you know, you’re so replaceable, so exchangeable.
To me, it really was a business transaction, it was not anything else. It was a way of taking care of my family, of putting my brothers and sisters through schooling. I had a vested interest in a different point of view, and I always had longevity in mind—it’s about how to make this thing work for you. That helped in the negotiations.
The power’s not always in someone else’s hands, because I could walk away from it; there was no desperation. And as a black model, it’s even more important because then you will know how not to be abused. When I came here, there was a certain price [in a model fee] that they would pay the white models and not the black models. And I said, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ I always thought, ‘What do I have to lose? Nothing! I can always go back, I have a return ticket.’”
“The world is full of opportunities — every day there’s something new that you can do. For example, you could make dirty water potable. Why does anyone not have potable water? Because it’s a problem that hasn’t been solved yet, but it can be.
Working on telephone lines — you don’t need a Ph.D. to do it, but you need to be able to read, discern, analyze problems. We are structurally creating an underclass that will be hard to fix. If we don’t have people who can create value, they will be servers forever. This is not an insurmountable problem. If you get kids when they’re young from just about any background, you can create people who are capable of utilizing science, technology, math, and engineering to solve problems.
If you look at the list of the top nations and try to find out where we are in reading, math, and any science, it is stunning. I don’t look at the list anymore because it’s an embarrassment. We are the best nation in the world. We created the Internet and little iPods and copying and printing machines and MRI devices and artificial hearts. That’s all science and engineering. Who’s going to create those things?“
–Ursula Burns on the state of education in the United States.
“The biggest challenge we all face is to learn about ourselves and to understand our strengths and weaknesses. We need to utilize our strengths, but not so much that we don’t work on our weaknesses. Weaknesses are not just, “Oh, I’m not good in this subject.” Your weaknesses might also include impatience or even trying too hard. You might have to learn when to let go, or when to keep going. The biggest challenge is to overcome the things in yourself that keep you from moving forward. When you do that, then dealing with challenges outside yourself becomes easier.
In college, very often I was the only African-American woman in many of my classes and work environments. There hadn’t been many African-American women in some of the schools I attended — in engineering, for example. So, at NASA I felt fine because I’m used to working with other people, and I’m comfortable with myself. It would be nice — and I think it will be nice — to have more and more people of all kinds involved with space exploration.“
–Mae Carol Jemison an American physician and now retired NASA astronaut who became the first black woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992.
“The privilege of a higher education, especially outside Africa, broadened my original horizon and encouraged me to focus on the environment, women and development in order to improve the quality of life of people in my country in particular and in the African region in general.
You must not deal only with the symptoms. You have to get to the root causes by promoting environmental rehabilitation and empowering people to do things for themselves. What is done for the people without involving them cannot be sustained.”
“Development is not that hard. We now have over 300 years of evidence of what works (and what doesn’t) in increasing growth, alleviating poverty and suffering. For example, we know that countries that finance development and create jobs through trade and encouraging foreign (and domestic) investment thrive.
We also know that there is no country — anywhere in the world — that has meaningfully reduced poverty and spurred significant and sustainable levels of economic growth by relying on aid. If anything, history has shown us that by encouraging corruption, creating dependency, fueling inflation, creating debt burdens and disenfranchising Africans (to name a few), an aid-based strategy hurts more that it helps.
It is true that interventions such as the Marshall plan in Europe and the Green Revolution in India played vital roles in economic (re)construction. However, the key and (often ignored) difference between such aid interventions and those plaguing Africa today is that the former were short, sharp and finite, whereas the latter are open-ended commitments with no end in sight. The problem with an open-ended system is, of course, that African governments have no incentive to look for other, better, ways of financing their development.”