Celebrating Black History

Honoring Contemporary Black Women


Debra Lee

Debra Lee Johnson, Esq.

Debra L. Lee, Esq. (born August 8, 1955) is an American businesswoman. She is currently the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of BET, the parent company for Black Entertainment Television. She is the mother of two. Lee has sat on the board of directors for a number of companies/organizations, including the National Cable & Telecommunications Association the Ad Council, and the National Cable Television Association. Debra Lee is named one of the “100 Most Powerful Women in Entertainment” by The Hollywood Reporter due to her many achievements in her 25-plus year career at BET.

Debra L. Lee was born in Fort Jackson, South Carolina and grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. She attended James B. Dudley High School. In 1976, Lee graduated from Brown University with a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in Asian politics. She went on to earn a Master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and a law degree at Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Board of Student Advisers, in 1980.

Under Lee, Black Entertainment Television has begun to move in a different format direction for the network. She increased the production budget by 50% and looked into incorporating original programming by getting 16 new shows for the new 2007 season. Lee has also redesigned BET’s mission statement by supporting families, encourgaging their dreams, and presenting fresh talent by creating new shows for its network. She created a new entertainment network, CENTRIC, in September 2009 that features new artists, reality shows, and movies.

Annie William Isom


Anne Williams-Isom, Esq.

Anne Williams-Isom is the Chief Executive Officer for the Harlem Children’s Zone®, before which she served as Chief Operating Officer for nearly five years, leading HCZ’s 2,100 staff and overseeing the organization’s comprehensive pipeline of programs.
Ms. Williams-Isom found her calling to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families when she was still a child herself. Growing up with a single mother in Queens, she witnessed firsthand the many challenges confronting kids in struggling communities. Yet she also learned that, with the right support and opportunities, they have the potential to overcome those challenges and realize their ambitions.
Ms. Williams-Isom received a bachelor’s degree in political science and psychology from Fordham University. Soon after, she began working in Community Affairs for the New York Police Department in Brooklyn. Working in Brooklyn in the 1980s, at the height of community policing, further fueled her commitment to social justice—but it was only after graduating from law school at Columbia University that she fully came to appreciate the complexity of social problems and the pivotal role of the community in solving them.
After receiving her J.D., Ms. Williams-Isom practiced law for five years at two of New York’s most prestigious firms. She then took on the position of Director of the Office of Community Planning and Development at NYC’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). There, she oversaw the development of crucial community partnerships, including a partnership with HCZ. During the creation of the original HCZ Project in the 1990s, Ms. Williams-Isom worked with Geoffrey Canada, offering strategic counsel on integrating preventive services into HCZ’s neighborhood-based network of programs. She also instituted the first ACS Leadership Academy for Child Protection, providing professional development for the staff overseeing investigation of the 55,000 reports to ACS of child abuse and neglect each year. Throughout her 13-year tenure at the agency, Ms. Williams-Isom remained steadfast in her primary goal: to strengthen families and support vulnerable children.
In 2009, Ms. Williams-Isom joined Mr. Canada to become HCZ’s Chief Operating Officer, overseeing operations across the organization. As COO, she worked to advance HCZ’s data-driven culture of accountability, spearheading numerous initiatives to strengthen services and improve outcomes for HCZ’s nearly 25,000 children and adults. Ms. Williams-Isom assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer on July 1, 2014.
Ms. Williams-Isom has been featured in The New York Times, Crain’s New York, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and Essence, as well as on WABC’s Here and Now and Bloomberg EDU. She is routinely sought after for her expert advice and guidance on child welfare and community development.


Cathy hughes

Cathy L. Hughes

Catherine L. Hughes (born Catherine Elizabeth Woods; April 22, 1947) is an African-American entrepreneur, radio and television personality and business executive. Hughes founded the media company Radio One and later expanded into TV One, the company went public in 1998, making Hughes the first and only African-American woman to head a publicly traded corporation at the time. In the 1970s, Hughes created the urban radio format called “The Quiet Storm” on Howard University’s radio station (WHUR) with its very first disc jockey she chose, the late Melvin Lindsay (who was a Howard University student, at the time).

Cathy Hughes was born to Helen Jones Woods, a trombonist with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and William Alfred Woods, who was the first African-American to earn an accounting degree from Creighton University. The family lived in the Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects while Hughes’ father attended college. Hughes attended University of Nebraska-Omaha and Creighton University, her father’s alma mater, but never completed her degree.

In January 2004, Radio One launched TV One, a national cable and satellite television network which bills itself as the “lifestyle and entertainment network for African-American adults.” Hughes interviews prominent personalities, usually in the entertainment industry, for the network’s talk program TV One on One.

Both Cathy Hughes and her son, Alfred Liggins have been named Entrepreneur of the Year by the company Ernst & Young. She is a notable member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.


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