I Am Debra Lee: A Memoir by Debra Lee

For a specific period in my life, my entire world revolved around books, music, and television–specifically BET. It would be a crime to attend school on a Monday and not know the lyrics to the latest Hip-Hop or R&B songs that dropped over the weekend.

In high school, my friends and I would rush home to watch 106&Park and see what music video made the countdown. And every year (since the premiere back in 2001), I have watched (and live-tweeted) the BET Awards show.

BET wasn’t simply another cable network to me, it represented who I was and spoke to me in a way that no other network had.

And Debra Lee was part of that representation, for 32 years she worked and gave her all to BET to ensure that Black voices were heard. Lee started her career at BET as general counsel and remained in that position for nine years.

She then moved on up to COO where she worked for 10 years until she took over the number one spot as CEO for 13 years. Once she took over the network there was a distinct shift in programming that was felt by everyone who tuned in.

Lee gave us BET Honors, The Game, Being Mary Jane, Black Girls Rock, and so much more during her tenure as CEO.

Lee was the first Black woman CEO of a network that we all knew by first and last name–she was the representative and that didn’t come without its hurdles. There is this famous saying, “You’ve got to pay the costs to be the boss.”

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In this very candid and raw memoir, Lee tells us exactly what the costs were to continuously climb the ladder in the corporate world to reach the mountaintop. Now, this isn’t your typical, “10 Ways to Become a Successful CEO” business book.

It’s more like a walk down memory lane mixed with a good talking-to from your favorite auntie. There were times when my eyebrows rose and I questioned if Ms. Lee knew she was telling the world her business. And then there were times I found myself highlighting everything on the page because there were so many gems being dropped.


And not just business gems, Lee drops some major life gems, that no matter the career path you can learn something. Every story she shared about her life became a nugget of wisdom for me. From the outside looking in Lee’s world looked like Emerald City.

But if I can borrow Langston Hughe’s words, life for Lee ain’t been no crystal stair. I do think that’s the beauty in her story–it’s honest. Yes, she wants us all to work hard and chase after our dreams but she also wants us to know what happens when the BET Awards goes off and the crowd leaves–will you still want Emerald City then?


Lee has given us her heart and wisdom in this memoir, she has consistently done it for the culture (even when no one was clapping) and she shows us how we can become the CEO of our lives…and a company if we so choose to.

I got the chance to talk to Lee about her memoir, I AM DEBRA LEE, and I had a ton of questions about the book, and she was graceful enough to answer them. Check out my interview below…


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