I Am Debra Lee

A Memoir


By Debra Lee

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*Well-Read Black Girl – Book Club Pick*

A riveting memoir by the former CEO of Black Entertainment Television (BET), about the glamorous and ugly moments of being a high-powered Black woman executive in the entertainment industry that Robin Roberts (Good Morning America) calls “an entertaining read loaded with wisdom about topics that many women CEOs have not yet dared to write about.” 

As an incredible glass-ceiling breaker and the woman who brought timeless television shows like The Game and Being Mary Jane to cable, Debra Lee has been the visionary responsible for elevating Black images and storytelling for decades. Now she’s telling her own story, in an intimate and eye-opening tale about the triumphant and tricky moments of a career in entertainment.

I Am Debra Lee is a page-turner, filled with deeply personal revelations, juicy celebrity intel, and electrifying behind-the-scenes stories that reveal how she went from a girl raised in the segregated South to leading the first Black company traded on the New York Stock Exchange and how she juggled social responsibility while managing a company targeted toward the Black community. In a rousing narrative, Lee writes: “I don’t just love Black culture—the magic in our hair, the swagger in our steps, the particular way we can say ‘alright now’ to fit our changing moods—Black culture saved me.” In her exciting debut, she answers all of our questions about building an unapologetically Black enterprise as a Black woman. What to do when you’re forced to attend a board meeting eight weeks after a C-section. How to manage a team of men when you’re the first female CEO at the company. How she learned the hard way to say no to those in power when their vision didn’t align with her purpose.

I Am Debra Lee tackles lessons that women CEOs rarely dare to. She addresses her personal struggles with motherhood and “having it all,” navigating reproductive choice, fertility, and #MeToo while achieving great professional success. Being Black and a woman in corporate life isn’t easy for anyone. But Lee shows how she evolved from a shy girl who dreaded public speaking to becoming a force to be reckoned with as she helped build the leading entertainment company for Black audiences and consumers of Black culture globally.

I Am Debra Lee is a must-read for all strivers in any industry. Lee is a truthteller about the critical choices that Black leaders face. As she has done her whole career, in this book, she opens the door for others to come after her, by sharing the truth behind her own inspiring story of power, perseverance, and success.




As a leader, the power of “yes” can be dizzying. Knowing that your thumbs-up can launch a career or create a cultural moment can make the top spot feel more like a throne. The yes is power. But, of course, it’s the no that truly tests your ability to lead. Because for every green light there are five times as many reds—and roadblocks. One yes is only possible because of all the noes you had to navigate to get there. And despite all the practice you get—and, believe me, you’ll get a lot—saying no is one of the toughest parts of the job. Nobody wants to hear it. Musical giants, rap moguls, corporate executives, and record label heads? Even less so. But whether you’re running a 24-hour cable network or a two-person team at a boutique company, getting cozy and comfortable with saying no is the real superpower. Just ask Aretha Franklin, the woman who taught me to say it, mean it, and respect it.

What’s funny is that I could never figure out if Aretha liked me.

Okay, let’s back up a bit. The first thing you must know is that I don’t just love Black culture—the magic in our hair, the swagger in our steps, the particular way we can say “alright now” to fit our changing moods—Black culture saved me. It gave a little girl who was afraid of her own voice the language of identity. It cradled me when I needed a soft landing as a child. It challenged me as a teen. It emboldened me as a young adult. Blackness—our struggles alongside our deep joy, our pain, and our pride—is what wakes me up in the morning. It’s my soul. So when I first met the “Queen of Soul” in 2003, to say I was in awe would be like saying the sun rises in the east.

That year BET was paying tribute to Ms. Franklin at our Walk of Fame benefit concert, which meant the company was putting on an entire weekend of celebrations in her honor. (The “Respect” singer required that everyone put plenty on her name. And required is the right word here. She didn’t demand it or command it. It was simply expected.) Hollywood had its iconic Walk of Fame, and in keeping with one of Bob’s favorite maxims—“Don’t reinvent the wheel, just paint it Black”—in 1995 we decided to make our own. The annual tribute dedicated to musical giants was truly unlike anything Washington had ever seen before. The night was a grand production hosted and filmed in the cavernous soundstage at the company’s new corporate headquarters in Northeast DC. It was a three-day-long celebration of exclusive VIP receptions, ladies’ lunches, and red carpets all culminating in a star-studded black-tie concert. The whole affair was like a glitzy family reunion—if your family included Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, and Stevie Wonder.

The District didn’t know what hit it. Before our show, the golden ticket was the annual Kennedy Center Honors hosted across town. That awards ceremony, venerable as it was, was not for or about us. At most, each year the Kennedy Center Honors would pay tribute to one Black honoree. The Walk of Fame was our night, in our city. This was some 13 years before the Obamas brought the A-list crowd to the boring and sleepy capital. Our concert was glitzy at a time when Washington didn’t really do glitz. Comedian Jamie Foxx, who was then most famous for his hilarious sketches on In Living Color, hosted our first shows. The night was all Black, so very Black.

Our premise was straightforward—give them their flowers while they’re still here. Because if we didn’t honor our greats, groundbreaking artists who’d changed the face of the entertainment industry, then who would? As a bonus, the evening helped bridge the gaps among our core audience, which spanned generations. The old heads, as it were, were honored, and the newbies got to perform tributes to their heroes. John Legend made his very first television appearance at the Walk of Fame honoring Smokey Robinson. The young Mr. Legend sang Robinson’s ethereal “Quiet Storm,” and the crowd went nuts. “Who is that?” folks in the audience whispered as John crooned from his piano while a billowing mist rose from the stage. Smokey got up out of his seat. Before that night John was known solely as Kanye West’s producer. Walk of Fame gave John one of his first chances to shine a little brighter. That was the extraordinary thing about BET: We could uplift our own. We could also be ourselves around each other.

Only BET could produce something like this—an event that was glamourous but somehow intimate. Walk of Fame was like a fancy family reunion complete with the added drama. Like the time I had to tell Bobby Brown he couldn’t come to our Friday afternoon ladies’ luncheon.

In 1996, we paid tribute to Whitney Houston, who was still riding the mega success of her film Waiting to Exhale. Whitney showed up to the sixth floor of BET’s corporate headquarters where the luncheon was being held with her best friend and executive assistant Robyn Crawford, which was a relief. Leading up to the event the singer’s team had been going back and forth with mine about a different plus one. Bobby Brown, Whitney’s husband of four years and the self-proclaimed bad boy of R&B, wanted in. But there was just one problem: The afternoon was for women only.

“Well, that’s not going to work,” I told my assistant, Bobette. “Tell them no.”

“But Bobby really wants to come.”

“He can’t.” I wasn’t budging. The big night belonged to the honoree and their friends and family. But the afternoon was for us, Black women. After a week of calls, Houston and Brown’s camp finally conceded with a blunt “Okay, fine, Bobby won’t come.” I could practically hear the “My Prerogative” singer sulking somewhere in the background. Sorry, Bobby, no boys—bad boys included. In the end, Robyn escorted Whitney to the lunch, and we all had a fantastic time.

But that minor headache paled in comparison to dealing with the Aretha Franklin. A diva’s diva if there ever was one. Over the years we’d toasted Smokey, Michael, Whitney, Diana Ross (whose hair is just as magnificent in person as it looks on-screen), Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, and Stevie Wonder, but Aretha? She left a permanent impression on me.

By the time our paths crossed, I’d been at BET for almost 17 years and had dealt with my fair share of divas onstage and difficult people in the wings. I’d been warned about Lady Soul. It was known that “No” was a complete sentence to Ms. Franklin (specifically when she was the one saying it). The icon knew what she wanted, how she wanted it, and exactly when you were to deliver it. Diva? Sure. But didn’t she deserve it? Didn’t any Black woman who’d survived the male-dominated music industry warrant a little runway when it came to so-called “demands”? Would a man in her shoes be labeled difficult? I remember mulling that over when I received my first message from the queen.

“Ms. Franklin would like a new winter wardrobe for the weekend,” my assistant Bobette told me from her desk outside my office. I couldn’t have heard that right.

“A what?” I asked.

“A full winter wardrobe,” repeated Bobette, emphasizing each word.

“Doesn’t she live in Detroit? Where she would have a winter wardrobe?” I asked. “Tell them we don’t do that.” Bobette was already picking up the phone as I walked back to my office chuckling to myself. A full winter wardrobe? Furs and hats and all? This woman was tripping. That was the first no, or, taken differently, that was the first time Ms. Franklin taught me something about advocating for yourself. There would be plenty more noes and lessons to come.

It was tradition for me to purchase a special gift for the Walk of Fame honoree every year. For weeks leading up to the event, my team and I would explore each celebrity’s specific hobbies and tastes to find a meaningful token. Patti LaBelle was a shoe fanatic, and I found her some fabulous sparkling Jimmy Choo stilettos. Smokey Robinson loved golf, and Bob tracked down a pin flag from the Master’s signed by the legendary Tiger Woods himself. I took my job as BET’s diplomatic hostess very seriously, trying to ensure that each honoree received a gift that they truly would love. But then word came back that Ms. Franklin wanted a watch from the luxe diamond jeweler Harry Winston.

“I wish I could buy her a $50,000 watch,” I told Bobette. “That’s not gonna fly either.” I figured a firm and solid “sorry but no” was needed. If I drew a line in the sand now, Ms. Franklin would get the message—I wasn’t a pushover even when it came to the woman whose lyrics I had belted into my wooden hairbrush as a 12-year-old. Boy, was I wrong.

The Queen of Soul would personally phone my office to iron out the details of her weekend in Washington with me directly. This was run of the show stuff that, honestly, was a tad, shall we say, below my pay grade. Producers, stage managers, set designers, assistants. Those are the very capable and talented professionals being referred to when someone says, “I’ll have my people call yours.” No one expects the COO of the company to hash out seating arrangements over the phone. But Ms. Franklin did not bother with middlemen. She went straight to the top—me.

In the weeks leading up to the concert, whenever my phone rang, there was a 50–50 chance Ms. Franklin was on the other end. Our calls always began the same way: “Hello, Debra, it’s Ms. Franklin,” and then she’d launch into all the things I needed to do. Afterward I’d take a deep breath and get it done.

Did she like me, respect me, tolerate me? I could never figure that out.

And remember, there was still the matter of that $50,000 timepiece. Aretha’s team came back with a compromise. Ms. Franklin, we were told, would accept a Chanel white enamel watch. Those were around $5,000, and I was happy to gift her one, and I hoped that once she got to DC it’d be smooth sailing. Why on earth did I think that?

The afternoon of the show we were informed that Ms. Franklin had lost all 60 of the tickets we’d given her for the concert and she required 60 replacement tickets. That was already an unusually high number for a charity event hosted in a venue that held 800. But Stephen had sold me on the “sure, no problem” solution. “Tell her we’ll have more tickets waiting at the soundstage,” I informed Bobette, who looked at me like I had three heads. “And make sure she knows that these new tickets will have the exact same barcodes as the ones she ‘lost.’”

That night Ms. Franklin and I sat next to each other in the front row. She was a vision in a white organza ball gown and a poker face no queen could ever imitate. Yolanda Adams, Tamia, Seal, Norah Jones, the Isley Brothers, and more sang tributes to the Queen of Soul, and while she was always gracious, I could tell from my seat that she was itching to get onstage herself. My personal favorite was the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, whose rendition of “Natural Woman” came from someplace deep. When Mary belted out her last note, I leaned over to Ms. Franklin: “Wasn’t that amazing?” The Queen responded without missing a beat: “Wait till I get up there.” And, man, she wasn’t lying. Ms. Franklin burned the house down. The crowd was on its feet in seconds. In the middle of her performance, during a spiritual rendition of “Today I Sing the Blues,” she snatched her own wig and threw it to her security guard, who in turn put it on his head. In that moment, whatever headaches I had were swiftly forgotten, drowned out by the sound of that voice and the thundering applause.

But before all that Ms. Franklin told the audience that the past three days of celebrations in Washington had been the most “beautiful” of her entire career—bar none—and I believed her. She even thanked me personally from the stage, and my pride swelled. Oh, Aretha, I thought, shaking my head. There was no one else like her, and I felt privileged to have even a toe in her spotlight. But I still wasn’t certain if we were, in fact, friends, and I realized in that moment that it actually mattered to me. There were very few examples of Black women surviving and thriving in the corporate and entertainment worlds. And by very few I mean zero. No wonder I didn’t see myself giving orders instead of taking them. Not only was I a young woman, Black, and from the South, but I was also shy and needed to be liked. The climb to CEO was made even rougher by the lack of mentors who looked like me. Aretha was that for me whether she wanted to be or not, and I felt a kinship with her.

But that didn’t mean the outlandish requests stopped.

As a general rule, BET didn’t give airtime to talent acts we’d never heard of. But Ms. Franklin’s grandson was a rapper, and she wanted him to perform during her mini concert for the BET Honors in 2014. In fact, she wouldn’t get on her bus (the “Ain’t No Way” crooner famously stopped flying in 1983 after a terrible experience on a two-engine plane) unless we agreed to let the young man share her stage. Oh, and she also had a granddaughter who could sing! Yep, she wanted her in the show too.

I called an emergency meeting in my office.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” said Stephen Hill, then the company’s President of Music Programming and Specials. Stephen was a talented producer and could find a laugh within most challenges. He’d joined the company about a decade after I did and shared my vision for our future as a true driver of the culture. Stephen had boundless energy and always advocated for us to push the envelope. He had a crazy solution: “Tell her it’s fine. We’ll let them perform.”

“Stephen, there’s no way,” I said. Had he lost his mind? “We don’t even know if these kids can actually rap and sing. All those people in the audience. The donors? This could be a complete disaster.”

Stephen gave me a reassuring look I’d grown familiar with over the years, “Debi, we can’t run the risk of making an enemy out of Aretha Franklin. But don’t worry about it. Those performances will never see the light of day.” He taught me something that day about push and pull, the give and take of dealing with difficult people in power. You had to make them happy while also doing what was best for you. That is always the juggling act of a senior executive. That day we told Ms. Franklin “sure, no problem” and agreed to let her granddaughter and son have their moment in the spotlight—but the cameras would be off. Stephen’s plan worked. Ms. Franklin eventually got on that bus.

A few years later, I ran into Ms. Franklin at Al Sharpton’s birthday party in New York. Around that same time, a production team had been floating the idea of BET acquiring an old gospel concert she had recorded in Los Angeles in 1972. Everyone in the business knew Aretha was not a fan of the documentary, which had been gathering dust for decades. My general counsel, Darrell Walker, wanted to see if I could convince her to let BET air the recording. Did he know this woman? Aretha Franklin could not be convinced to do anything that Aretha Franklin did not want to do. But I tried anyway. When I spotted her at Al’s, I pulled up a chair and asked her directly how she felt about the documentary. There was no use beating around the bush. Ms. Franklin wasn’t a fan.

“I hate it,” she told me. “I didn’t like the creative team then, and nothing’s changed. Debra, I never want it to be seen.”

“Okay, Ms. Franklin,” I said. Remembering our near-daily phones calls from years before, I easily slid into my role as her handler. “I’ll take care of it.” When I got back to Washington on Monday, I gave Darrell and the team my answer: “We can’t.” They, of course, pushed back. This was Aretha Franklin we’re talking about! The film documented the live recording of one of her most successful albums to date. Acquiring it wouldn’t just be a major get for the network but a major moment “for the culture.” For the culture. I took a moment to reflect on what those three words really meant.

“Excuse me? Miss Lee?” The first time someone acknowledged my work for the culture I was fresh from the red carpet of a Hollywood gala honoring John Williams, the Star Wars composer, and looking for my seat inside the theater. As usual, I was one of the handful of Black people in the crowd, and a tuxedo-clad attendant spotted me from a mile away. He made a beeline in my direction from across the sparkling theater lobby, and I just knew there was something burning in his back pocket—a carefully folded résumé, a demo tape, a business prospectus, something. But what came out of his mouth left me speechless.

“Miss Lee,” he ventured shyly, balancing a heavy plate of champagne glasses in one hand while clasping mine with the other hand. “I just want to say thank you for everything you’re doing for the culture.” I did a slight double take before thanking him for his support. I couldn’t believe he was singling me out. Me? I always knew that the work I did had an impact that was deeply felt by our community even if I wasn’t always the person on the front end of the camera. For me, working for BET wasn’t just a job, it was part of my purpose. Still, in the beginning, I was always surprised when someone felt the same about my work.

The second time this happened, I was power walking the streets of New York, on my way to yet another make it or break it meeting at Viacom’s offices in bustling midtown Manhattan. The city’s streets are no joke, and as I navigated my way through the ever-present crowds of sightseeing tourists and other business folks operating on turbo ambition toward Viacom’s corporate HQ, a young Black man stopped me in my tracks and repeated that same line nearly word for word: “Thank you for doing it for the culture.”

Another time I was at a Burberry fashion showcase at its flagship store off Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. One of the waiters recognized me. “I see you,” he said. “I appreciate what you’re doing for the culture,” he added before disappearing back into the crowd filled mostly with men and women who looked nothing like us.

For the culture. It was a welcome reminder that my time at BET was decades well spent. That the blood, sweat, and tears I put in as general counsel, COO, and then CEO were not only worth it but wholly necessary. That climbing the corporate ladder to the pinnacle of a career in the entertainment industry was about lifting not just me, not just the 600 employees who worked tirelessly behind the scenes, but an entire people. And the fact that we did all of that for years on a shoestring budget while remaining authentically and unapologetically Black? Well, that was what these young fans were getting to the heart of. We—Bob Johnson, me, BET executives, talent, and employees—did it for the culture.

Those young men who approached me with their appreciation on display underscored one of the crucial ingredients to my success as a manager and CEO. Only an unshakable foundation can support a behemoth career, and I built mine on solid rock—my love for the culture. Before I joined BET as a young law firm associate, I always felt like I had to leave who I was outside the revolving glass doors of my office building. At the network, I got to bring my full self to work every day. I took my deeply personal understanding of Black people, Black power, Black music, Black art, and Black life and helped erect a business on top of it. Not despite it but because of it.

When you marry what you love with what you do, the work (because it is work) doesn’t get easier, it gets lighter. Take a breath, dig deep, and decide what excites you. Then point your career toward it. Folks say that if you love what you do then you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, that’s not entirely true. Oh, you’ll work all right. In fact, you’ll probably work harder than you ever have before. But the blood, sweat, and tears will feel like a calling, not a chore. You’ll be committed to something greater.

All that led me back to Ms. Franklin. I knew Darrell and his team were right. Buying the concert film would be a great business move. But would it be for the culture? Would it hurt the company more than it served the community? Would it hijack a legacy?

“It’d be incredible,” I said. “And we’re still not doing it.”

This was Ms. Franklin’s choice. If she didn’t want the film shown, BET, which I believed should always be a safe space for Black voices, wouldn’t be the network to buy it. I’d never exploit her like that, no matter how many dollar signs were involved. Folks in-house were disappointed, but I knew it was the right decision. It was a “no” and I owned it.

Amazing Grace wasn’t released until after Ms. Franklin’s death in 2018, and it quickly became a critical hit. I went to see it in the theater by myself. The young afro’d Aretha who stood on the pulpit dressed all in white, turning a small chapel into holy ground, was instantly recognizable as the grown woman I’d first met nearly 30 years later. Chills ran down my spine as I sat alone in my seat. Mixed in with my awe was more than a small amount of regret that BET wasn’t the platform to bring it to the world, but I never regretted backing Ms. Franklin’s decision. I was acting as a CEO, a Black woman, and an ally.

That was the thing about BET—we were more than just a network. I was more than just another CEO. Our audience, the entertainment industry, and the culture as a whole expected more from us. And as a Black woman operating in a world that often did not value us, it was my responsibility to do as much as I could do to support other Black women. Not everyone lets a personal mandate like that order their climb up the ladder, but I did. Who I am and what I did were one in the same. And once I took a senior leadership role, I wanted everyone in the building to expect more from themselves. I’m sure we could’ve acquired the rights to Amazing Grace without Aretha’s permission. But why would I do that to a Black artist? A Black woman? We had to do better. That was part of the brand, the business. Being better. BET had to be the standard bearer. It was the place where our people came to see their authentic selves, not where they came to be exploited.

After that I figured Ms. Franklin and I were at the very least on good terms—two powerful women who understood each other. Over the course of knowing her in both a professional and personal capacity, I could never get a read on whether we’d moved from mutual respect to maybe friends. But what I loved most about Ms. Franklin is that she always kept me on my toes. Case in point: She’d invited me to her 70th birthday party in New York. At the time I was dating an entertainment lawyer, who was also invited. Before the celebration, Ms. Franklin called my office to see if the two of us would be coming together. I said yes. But when we went to find our seats—at the Queen of Soul’s head table, no less—we’d been split up. Her name was next to my date’s, and my name was next to her fiancé’s. Some of the other guests noticed and suggested we do some shuffling. Ms. Franklin didn’t say anything about the swap when she joined the table, but a month later, she sent me a thank-you card with this note: “Thank you for coming to my birthday party, Debra. I see you moved your seat. I just wanted to let you know that it is customary for dates to be split up at a formal dinner party. I hope you’re well. And thank you for the gift certificate to the Red Rooster but I am on a very strict diet.” I laughed out loud when I read it. This woman was too much and more importantly always herself. But was that strike two for me? Did she like me? Were we friends?

In 2015, my assistant Bobette buzzed me to say that Ms. Franklin was on the line. I braced myself. “Debra,” she said in that rich voice that made hearts melt and hairs stand at attention. “I’ll be in DC for the attorney general’s farewell ceremony at the Justice Department. Why don’t you come as my plus one?” Ms. Franklin was Attorney General Eric Holder’s favorite singer, and he’d personally asked her to perform at one of his first farewells. I needed zero convincing: “I’d be honored to come.” What I didn’t tell Aretha was that I’d already been invited to the ceremony. Eric and I were old friends. We’d met decades before as young Black lawyers who’d just arrived in DC to make our respective marks on the nation’s capital. The AG had been a part of my inner circle for years. Heck, his wife, the incredible Dr. Sharon Malone, was my gynecologist. But if Aretha wanted me to roll with her? The answer was always yes.

“Debra, you’ve got to get out here,” Bobette buzzed the night of the ceremony a few weeks later. Ms. Franklin would not be kept waiting. I immediately put down the contract I was mulling over, pushed my chair away from my massive glass desk, and walked over to my closet to grab a new pair of heels and statement necklace to take my gray sheath dress up a notch. I always kept chic after-five accessories in my office. As CEO, you never knew where you’d have to go and whom you’d have to meet outside the office. Plus Aretha loved jewelry, and I made sure to wear an eye-catching bauble when she was around. I left BET headquarters to meet the Queen of Soul in the lobby of the Mandarin Oriental. The two of us rode in a limo over to Main Justice together with a friend of hers from Detroit. Before she walked onstage, the three of us waited together in the green room while she got ready.

I was in awe, watching Aretha getting her hair primped, her lashes curled. I just remember it being easy between us. I didn’t have anything to do besides enjoy being in her company. It was a rare glimpse into the kind of woman she was. There was no sign of a diva in that dressing room. Most celebrities are pretty finicky about whom they let into their inner circle, and there were few celebrities whose circles I wanted to be let into. But that hour before the concert was special. I knew then that Aretha thought of me as a friend and not just a fellow businesswoman or the lady who sat in the wrong seat at her birthday party. I saw the side of her that most don’t. We chatted about Washington and politics, and Aretha loved my chunky silver necklace. She had impeccable taste in everything. She loved shiny, expensive things—diamonds, furs, watches, oh, and men. Ms. Franklin got a kick out of an attractive man. That evening in the green room she made no secret of the crush she had on Eric. “Isn’t he handsome?” she said with a sly grin. This was the woman behind the microphone. It reminded me how we all have to put on a mask sometimes, taking on a persona to go out and do our jobs. Then I watched as she slowly began transforming from the Aretha who’d been laughing and joking with me in the limo into the


  • "The former CEO of Black Entertainment Television Networks tells the story of the unexpected journey that took her away from a fledgling career in law and into the world of entertainment media. . . Lee never stopped believing that the work she did empowered her to offer viewers a space in which to unapologetically celebrate Black culture. This compelling book about finding success in a professional environment severely lacking in Black female mentors and sponsors offers women of color bold lessons in how to make a difference while surviving—and overcoming—misogyny in the corporate world. A provocatively frank and inspiring memoir."—Kirkus
  • “Lee has peeled back the secrets of the corporate world in her memoir. . . .This is one of the most impressive business survivor’s tale of purpose, perseverance, and power. . . . This is a master class on bright feminine choices, practical life lessons, and daring business decisions.”

    African American Literature Book Club
  • “Riveting . . . . a must-read for all strivers in any industry.”

  • I am Debra Lee is the highly-anticipated memoir from former CEO of BET and super glass ceiling shatterer Debra Lee. Come for the inspirational story of how a girl from the segregated South went on to head the first Black company traded on the New York Stock Exchange against all odds. Stay for all of the juicy celeb tea she shares from behind the scenes at BET.”—The Root
  • “Lee writes an extraordinarily balanced narrative that succeeds on several levels (personal, professional, existential). I was mesmerized by her characterization of the opportunities and challenges she experienced at every turn on her road to the ultimate success… Lee’s literary style is comfortable and conversational…It didn’t take me that long to finish this one. I was up way too late a couple of nights because I couldn’t find a good ‘stopping place’ (many readers will know exactly what I mean). Honestly, by the time I finished the book I felt Debra was an old friend, such is the power of her prose.”
    Bowling Green Daily News
  • “Debra Lee shares her amazing memoir that will have you laughing, crying and cheering for her on every page. It’s an entertaining read loaded with wisdom about topics that many women CEOs have not yet dared to write about. No surprise that Debra has once again taken the lead.”—Robin Roberts, Co-Anchor, ABC’s Good Morning America
  • "Debra Lee is a force! A trailblazing advocate for Black culture, music, love, business, and financial Independence. In I Am Debra Lee, she honestly recounts her journey that continues to impact the careers of so many artists, including my own. Written like a conversation over tea, it is full of incredible insider stories, tales of triumph and the realities of just how hard she had to work to earn her success. This memoir is a must-read for anyone who not only wants to learn from one of the most powerful women in entertainment, but understand what it took to bring Black creatives to the forefront of the entertainment industry. I love her candor and vulnerability within these pages! I Am Debra Lee is designed to make an impact."—Alicia Keys
  • “I was glued to Debra’s every word in this memoir. Her story is powerful and full of unexpected moments. She has topped it off with sharp lessons for Black women, reminding them to take control of their own narrative, and how to not only succeed but to thrive in a white male-dominated world.”
     —Taraji P. Henson
  • Debra has helped, inspired and mentored so many of us over the years, and she provides her unique insights in this exceptional book. When I think of Debra, what comes to mind first and foremost is her strong and powerful voice, and I have witnessed firsthand how she can command a room. That voice is just as clear and distinct in these pages, and while Black women in particular will be able to relate, her lessons and experiences are important for any and all leaders.—Roz Brewer; President & CEO Walgreens Boots Alliance

On Sale
Mar 7, 2023
Page Count
256 pages
Legacy Lit

Debra Lee

About the Author

Debra Lee was named one of the Hollywood Reporter’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Entertainment and Billboard’s Power 100. She serves as a director on the boards of Warner Bros. Discovery, Burberry Group Plc, Marriott International, and Procter & Gamble. Lee is the founder and chairman of Leading Women Defined Foundation, a foundation of Black female thought leaders, which she founded in 2009. She served as the CEO of Black Entertainment Television Networks for thirteen-plus years following the network’s founder, Robert Johnson. She is also the co-founder of Monarchs Collective—an organization wholly dedicated to mentoring, supporting, and empowering women and men of color to serve on corporate boards. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Learn more about this author