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Hidden Heroes: Ursula Burns and Harold Moss

Week 6 of the Lakewood MLK Committee’s Hidden Heroes campaign highlights national hero Ursula Burns and local hero from neighboring Tacoma, Harold Moss. With Black History Month drawing to a close, this is the last of the Hidden Heroes.

The Lakewood MLK Committee thanks everyone who took the time to read about these influential individuals and who shared their stories with others. If you have suggestions or ideas about local and national heroes to highlight for the 2021 campaign, please send an email to Communications Manager Brynn Grimley, [email protected].

Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns

Ursula Burns is a notable businesswoman and pioneer in engineering from the black community.

Burns is the current chairwoman and CEO of VEON, the world’s 11th largest telecoms service provider by subscribers. In 2009 she became the CEO of Xerox, making her the first black woman to become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company and the first woman to succeed another woman as head of a Fortune 500 company.

Burns started at Xerox as an intern in 1980 and worked in various roles in product development and planning before taking a job as executive assistant to a senior executive. That role ultimately led to her being named to senior positions within the company before taking the top position as CEO, which she held until 2016. She served as Xerox chairwoman from 2010 to 2017.

In 2014 Burns was rated by Forbes as the 22nd most powerful woman in the world. Among other civic positions, Burn was a leader of the White House’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program from 2009 to 2016, a position she was appointed to by President Barack Obama. She also served as the head of the President’s Export Council from 2015 to 2016.

Burns has been listed multiple times by Forbes as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. In 2018 she was featured America’s Top 50 Women in Tech.

“…we really do live in the greatest country on earth. So dream big. Work hard. And all things are possible.” – Ursula Burns

Harold Moss

Tacoma's Harold Moss is sworn into office
Harold Moss, center

Harold Moss became Tacoma’s first African American City Council member in 1970, at the time also making him the first African American to hold public office in Pierce County.

In 1994 Moss became the first African American mayor of Tacoma, and in 1996 the first African American member of the Pierce County Council. He served as council chairman from 2002 until his retirement in 2004.

Born in Texas, Moss spent his childhood in Detroit and in 1950 landed in Tacoma after being stationed at Fort Lewis (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord).

Facing discrimination, including an inability to buy a home in Tacoma due to discriminatory postwar real estate tactics known as redlining, Moss became an active member of the area’s civil rights movement. He joined the local branch of the NAACP, serving as its president in 1957 and 1958.

Moss went on to build a long record of activism with the NAACP and in 1968 helped form the Tacoma Urban League. He served on Tacoma’s first Human Relations Commission (now Human Rights Commission) and was a board member with the Washington Association of Counties for five years, serving as president in 2003.

Now 90 years old, Moss continues to be a mentor and civil rights advocate in the Tacoma area.

“I would just do everything you can to encourage you to make our community whole. By whole, I mean equal justice for everyone and to value equal racial justice with a discrimination-free society. We’re an awesome people. I’m telling you – America is an awesome place to be.” – Harold Moss, June 2019 interview with We R Tacoma.