Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Inducts Ursula M. Burns, Ruth E. Carter, Debra Martin Chase, Cynthia Erivo, Lisa Leslie, Robin Roberts, Tracee Ellis Ross and Alice Walker Into Sorority As Honorary Members
CHICAGO – Eight exemplary Black women in corporate business, entertainment business, media, literature, performing arts and sports were recently inducted into Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated (AKA) as honorary members.
Trailblazers Ursula M. Burns (corporate business), Ruth E. Carter (entertainment business), Debra Martin Chase (entertainment business), Cynthia Erivo (performing arts), Lisa Leslie (sports), Robin Roberts (media), Tracee Ellis Ross (performing arts) and Alice Walker (literature) became members of the sorority in separate ceremonies in New York, N.Y., Atlanta, Ga., Los Angeles, Calif., Berkeley, Calif., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., all following the CDC’s COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Presiding over the formal, in-person inductions was Alpha Kappa Alpha's International President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Glenda Glover. Also in attendance was Staci R. Collins Jackson, Chairman, International Honorary Members & Awards committee and committee members Rose Jackson Flenorl and Rashan Ali.
“I am honored to welcome these extraordinary women into Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Each of these luminaries has reached the pinnacle of success in her respective field and sphere of influence. They are recognized and celebrated around the world and epitomize greatness. Since our founding in 1908, Alpha Kappa Alpha women have been history makers and standard bearers. Our newest members are writing a new chapter in our long and distinguished history. They now join an international sisterhood of more than 300,000 members who exemplify excellence through our lifelong commitment to the communities we serve. The induction of our newest honorary members will ensure that we continue to shine our light on the extraordinary accomplishments of Black women,” said Glover.
Honorary membership is the sorority’s highest honor and awarded to distinguished women whose works and contributions parallel AKA’s ideals of achievement and service.
Ursula M. Burns is the first Black woman to be a Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company. She regularly appears on Fortune and Forbes’ lists of the world’s most powerful women and is currently a Board Director of Exxon Mobil and Uber, Senior Advisor of Teneo Ltd., Executive Chairman of PLUM Acquisition Corp I /Special Purpose Acquisition Company; and a founding partner of private equity firm, Integrum Holdings. Burns is also on three Pre-IPO boards – Waystar, IHS Towers and Hear.com (Auris Netherlands IV N.V.). She is also the author of the book “Where You Are Is Not Who You Are.” She joined Xerox Corporation as a summer intern in 1980 and held leadership posts spanning corporate services, manufacturing and product development before being named President in 2007, Chief Executive Officer in 2009 and was Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer from 2010-2017. During her tenure, she spearheaded the largest acquisition in Xerox history, the $6.4 billion purchase of Affiliated Computer Services. U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Burns to lead The White House national program on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) from 2009-2016. She also served as Chair of the President’s Export Council from 2015-2016, after service as Vice Chair from 2010-2015. In 2017, she was appointed Chairman of the Board of VEON Ltd. and was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer from 2018-2020. Burns holds a master’s in mechanical engineering from Columbia University and a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York University.
Ruth E. Carter is the first Black person to win the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. She is also the first Black costume designer with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. With a career spanning four decades in theater, television and cinema collaborating with the most prolific directors in the world, Carter has been the costume designer for over 40 iconic films including – “School Daze,” “Do The Right Thing,” “Mo’ Betta Blues,” “The Five Heartbeats,” “Jungle Fever,” “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” ‘Rosewood,” “B.A.P.S” “Love & Basketball,” “Shaft,” “Sparkle,” “The Butler, “AKA member Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” “Marshall,” “Black Panther” and “Coming 2 America.” She received an Academy Award for “Black Panther” and two Academy Award nominations—for “Malcolm X” and “Amistad.” Currently, she is the costume designer for 2022’s “Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever.” In television, she received an Emmy nomination for the 2016 mini-series reboot, “Roots.” Carter's ability to fuse African traditional with contemporary while incorporating technology to deliver fashion, function and authenticity cements her as a preeminent expert voice on Afro future and period aesthetics. Her costumes tell timeless stories that enrich the Black narrative. Carter’s depth of artistry, creative instincts, passion for history, empathy for people, capacity for research, eye for detail and technique to deliver the director’s vision while infusing her own signature, makes her one of the most sought after and renowned costume designers in the world. Carter holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts from Hampton University.
Debra Martin Chase is the first Black female producer to have an overall deal at any major Hollywood studio. She is also the first Black woman to produce a film that grossed over $100 million. To date, her films have grossed over a half billion dollars at the box office. Chase’s work has garnered Academy, Emmy, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Critics Choice, NAACP Image and Peabody Award nominations. Her production company, Martin Chase Productions, currently has an overall deal with Universal Television, and previously had one with The Walt Disney Company for 15 years. Prior to that, Chase ran Whitney Houston’s Brown House Productions from 1995 to 2000 and Denzel Washington’s Mundy Lane Entertainment from 1992 to 1995. She has produced “The Princess Diaries,” “The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants” and “The Cheetah Girls” movie franchises as well as “Harriet” starring AKA member Cynthia Erivo, “Sparkle,” “Just Wright,” “Courage Under Fire” and “The Preacher’s Wife.” Her television credits include Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” “Missing” “Lemonade Mouth,” “Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream,” “Lovestruck” and “Zoe Ever After.” She also produced five movies in partnership with Mattel's American Girl. Her current hit TV series is CBS’ “The Equalizer.” She sits on the boards of B&G Foods, New York City Ballet and Second Stage Theatre. She is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and The Television Academy. Chase is a Phi Beta Kappa, magna cum laude graduate of Mount Holyoke College and the Harvard Law School.
Cynthia Erivo is an Emmy and Tony Award winning actress, a Grammy Award winning singer and an Academy Award, Golden Globe and SAG Award nominee. She burst onto the West End and Broadway stages in the critically acclaimed revival of “The Color Purple” in the role of Celie. She was also heralded for her execution of the title role of Harriet Tubman in the AKA member Debra Martin Chase-produced feature film, “Harriet.” On the television side, Erivo starred in HBO’s “The Outsider” as well as in the lead role of Aretha Franklin in the National Geographic Channel's eight-episode mini-series, “Genius: Aretha.” She recently completed filming Disney’s “Pinocchio” remake. Also a producer, Erivo has a first-look deal with MRC Television and Civic Center Media via her production company, Edith’s Daughter, which focuses on projects that express the beauty in the stories and people who are often overlooked and underrepresented. In addition to her acting career, Erivo is an accomplished singer/songwriter. Her debut album, “Ch 1. Vs. 1” will be released in September 2021. Her first children’s book, “Remember to Dream, Ebere,” will debut that same month as well. The United Kingdom native graduated from The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
Lisa Leslie is the first Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) player to win Most Valuable Player for the regular season, the All-Star game and the finals all in the same season. She was also named Most Valuable Player of the entire league three times and is a two-time WNBA World Champion. Leslie is also a four-time Olympic Gold Medalist. The eight-time WNBA All-Star Team player joined the WNBA when it was founded in 1997 and played for the Los Angeles Sparks her entire career. Leslie was also the first player to dunk in a WNBA game. Always blending beauty, grace, strength and athleticism, she was regarded throughout her career as the face of the WNBA and the most dominant player in women's basketball. She retired as the all-time leading rebounder in WNBA history. Additionally, her jersey number nine was retired by the Sparks. She was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and is also an inductee in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. Leslie is currently a television sports commentator and one of the only female head coaches in the BIG3 professional basketball league. She was named Coach of the Year in 2019. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor's degree in communications, where her jersey number 33 was retired. She also holds a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.
Robin Roberts was the first Black anchorwoman on ESPN. Since 2005, she has been the co-anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America. Under her leadership, the broadcast has won numerous Emmy Awards for Outstanding Morning Program and the 2017 People’s Choice Award for Favorite Daytime TV Hosting Team. Roberts has worked in broadcasting for more than 30 years. She has been honored with the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame and the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. She was also voted The Most Trusted Person on Television by a Reader’s Digest poll in 2013. During her time at ESPN, she co-anchored SportsCenter and contributed to NFL Primetime. Her battle with cancer and MDS has been recognized with awards and honors from organizations including The Susan G. Komen Foundation and The Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program. Roberts has also been honored with a George Foster Peabody Award and Gracie Award. She received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2013 ESPYs. In college, she was a standout performer on the women’s basketball team, ending her career as one of her school’s all-time leading scorers and rebounder. In 2012, Roberts was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. She is also the founder of Rock'n Robin Productions and author of “From the Heart: 7 Rules to Live By” and her memoir, “Everybody’s Got Something.” The cum laude graduate holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Southeastern Louisiana University.
Tracee Ellis Ross is the first Black woman to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a TV Comedy or Musical in over 30 years. She is also the first Black woman to be nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy in over 30 years. The four-time Emmy Award nominee is an actress, executive producer and star of ABC’s “black-ish.” Previously, Ross starred in the UPN/CW series “Girlfriends” for eight seasons. Ross has won nine NAACP Image Awards for “black-ish,” “Girlfriends” and BET’s “Reed Between the Lines,” which she starred in and produced. Recently, Ross starred in the feature film “The High Note” for which she recorded five original songs. She has hosted the BET Awards, American Music Awards and Black Girls Rock! Ross is also Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pattern, an award-winning natural haircare brand. Launched in 2019, it is the number one BIPOC brand and number two curl brand at ULTA Beauty. As ULTA Beauty’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisor, Ross champions initiatives that reframe narratives around Black women and Black consumers. Advocate for joy, self-acceptance, inclusivity and equity, Ross is a founding member of Time’s Up where she is focused on creating safety and equality in the workplace. Ross was the first Black woman to open the TED Conference. Additionally, she also moderated a conversation with Michelle Obama for the “Becoming” book tour. Ross received both a Bachelor of Arts degree in theater and an honorary doctorate from Brown University.
Alice Walker is a Pulitzer Prize winner, National Book Award winner and New York Times best-selling author of the globally, critically acclaimed novel, “The Color Purple.” The book spawned a film that was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won two Tony Awards – one for Best Actress in a Musical for AKA member Cynthia Erivo who starred as Celie. The internationally celebrated novelist, writer, poet and social activist has written six other novels – "The Temple of My Familiar,” “By The Light of My Father’s Smile,” “Possessing the Secret of Joy,” “The Third Life of Grange Copeland,” “Meridian” and “Now Is the Time To Open Your Heart;” four collections of short stories, four children’s books and volumes of essays and poetry. Her work has been translated into more than two dozen languages and her books have sold more than fifteen million copies. Walker was honored as one of the inaugural inductees into the California Hall of Fame and has been awarded the Mahmoud Darwish Literary Prize for Fiction. In 2007, her archives were opened to the public at Emory University. She is a staunch defender of human rights and lends her support to the revolutionaries, teachers and leaders who seek change and transformation of the world. Her next book, “Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker” will be released in 2022. Walker is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College.
These eight women now join other exceptional honorary AKA members including Marian Anderson, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, First Lady Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, Suzanne de Passe, Ntozake Shange, Mae Jemison, Zina Garrison, Alice Coachman Davis, Gladys Knight, Ella Fitzgerald, Alicia Keys, Cathy Hughes, Yolanda Adams, Jada Pinkett Smith, Iyanla Vanzant, Mellody Hobson, Julie Dash, Ava DuVernay and other distinguished recipients.