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Westside Wired

The Student-Run News Site of Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Keeping you WIRED in to all things Westside.

Westside Wired

The Student-Run News Site of Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Keeping you WIRED in to all things Westside.

Westside Wired

Former BET CEO shares experiences with Girls Inc.

Lee+attended+%E2%80%9CLunch+for+the+Girls%E2%80%9D+as+the+keynote+speaker+and+spoke+about+her+experiences+struggling+with+using+her+voice.+
Sammy Marvin
Lee attended “Lunch for the Girls” as the keynote speaker and spoke about her experiences struggling with using her voice.

On Thursday, Sept. 14, Girls Inc. held a “Lunch for the Girls” event featuring former BET CEO Debra Lee. 

Girls Inc. is a not-for-profit organization focused on inspiring girls to be “Strong, Smart and Bold.” They hold the luncheon annually as their signature fundraising event and invite renowned individuals to Omaha to be keynote speakers. 

Lee shared her experiences struggling with being bold, beginning with her journeys in high school up to her retirement as one of the most powerful women in the media industry. As she grew, so did her tenacity to overcome her fears. 

According to Lee, her success began with her parents’ support, but her fear of public speaking came along with it. 

“I was painfully shy [as a young woman], and I was quiet… Although my parents pushed me to excel in school, and laid the groundwork for me to find professional success,” Lee said. “They also taught me to be the nice girl, to not speak up, or speak out of turn, to not ruffle too many feathers. That doesn’t really work in the corporate world.”

Lee obtained J.D. and M.A. degrees from Harvard University, but found her first job in a corporate law firm a tough place to be. 

“When I was in law school, you were put on the spot daily, in front of 150 other students in force to think on your feet and give answers that you’re not sure of,” Lee said. “That was terrifying enough for me. But I got a good education and I decided to go to a big law firm. After five years, I said, ‘okay, it’s time to really do something I like.’”

“I found out I couldn’t be the nice girl, I had to make the difficult decisions.”

— Debra L. Lee

Lee was offered a position as general counsel for BET, and 19 years later, Lee became Chairman and CEO of the company. She learned quickly that using her voice would be critical in the success of the company.

“I found out I couldn’t be the nice girl, I had to make the difficult decisions,” Lee said. “I had to terminate some people who weren’t necessarily on my team. It was a whole different ball game trying to manage a company and as a woman, to have my voice heard. I kept growing and kept learning; I kept facing my fear, which was public speaking, and I eventually got better at it. My voice stopped quivering. But it was something I had to live through. You know, you can’t just make it go away. You have to face it, you have to practice.”

The confidence Lee built up took time, as well as seeing examples in other women surrounding her. Lee looked up to Aretha Franklin, whom she said greatly impacted her. 

“I had enough interaction with [Franklin] to learn from her toughness, to learn from her ability to say no, and her ability to run your own career and deal with the men around her,” Lee said. 

Lee views Franklin as a ‘distant mentor’, and admired her for the way she conducted her career. 

“The fact that she sang about R-E-S-P-E-C-T really made an impression on me,” Lee said. “I became more [of a] manager, and more of an executive, I learned how to ask for what I needed, and say no when it was appropriate.”

In an encouraging word to the audience, Lee urged them to use the voice that they have and not be afraid to ask for help. 

“We all have to face our fears to be strong, smart and bold,” Lee said. “We have to embrace our voice and know it’s valid. If you don’t use your voice, there’s no reason for you to be in the room. And that’s something that I tell myself all the time.

Lee ended her address in a powerful way, reminding listeners that they have the capacity to achieve their goals.

“Every single one of you in this room today has endless potential. Just go out into the world, face your fears, embrace the voice. We all have a voice, we don’t have to find it. We just have to remember to use it. And don’t forget that it’s okay to ask for help along the way.”

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About the Contributors
Tanatswa Chivero, Co-Editor in Chief
Hey! My name is Tanatswa Chivero, and I am a Co-Editor in Chief for Wired. I am currently a senior, and this is my fourth year in journalism. A fun fact about me is that I love history! If you have any questions or comments please contact me at [email protected].
Sammy Marvin, Managing Editor
Howdy, my name is Sammy Marvin! I am a Managing Editor for Westside Wired. I am currently a senior and this is my fourth year on Wired. A fun fact about me is that I love lizards. If you have any questions or comments please contact me at [email protected].
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