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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

All this week on MORNING EDITION, we've been listening to the debate over black leadership in this country. We've heard from author John McWhorter and Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker. Today, we hear from a woman who has been called one of the 50 most powerful women in American business. Ann Fudge is a CEO of Young and Rubicam Brands, a worldwide marketing communications company. She joined us from our studios in New York.

Ms. ANN FUDGE (CEO, Young and Rubicam Brands): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, I just want to start with a definition here. Do you consider yourself a black leader?

Ms. FUDGE: I consider myself a leader first, who happens to be African-American and a woman. But I think most importantly, leadership is what it does and what it achieves.

MONTAGNE: Do African-Americans need at this point in time political leaders? Or could business leaders, like yourself, do the job in the sense of leading the community towards equality and success?

Ms. FUDGE: I think we need leaders everywhere to begin to make change and make a difference. And I think if I think about where the civil rights movement is going, it is about that evolution. It is about redefining civil rights for our time. And I'll tell you one of the most important civil rights in my mind, a critical one, is education. Because I think that's what helps to create the platform for us to move in a variety of different places.

When I was growing up, you know, there were no African-American astronauts or African-American CEOs, women in business, and that's where the leadership and role models become very important. Because young people need to see people in those roles so that they can think about how they can move into those positions and make a difference.

MONTAGNE: Early in this series, we talked to NPR's Juan Williams who said that many African-Americans don't take enough responsibility for their problems. What do you say to that sort of proposition?

Ms. FUDGE: I think the personal responsibility aspect is critical. I think what we've seen is a time where, you know, we've moved from a very interesting history in the 50s of segregation to an area of opportunity. And the way I like to think about it is that the civil rights movement really set the stage for us, but it's up to us to write our story, to write our scripts. And that's the personal responsibility aspect of that. And I do remember my parents always saying: it's a new world and its up to you to take advantage of it.

MONTAGNE: And for your parents, the new world was the new world, post civil rights?

Ms. FUDGE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I do remember the separate drinking fountains, things that, you know, only my children hear me talk about. And I do remember the march on Washington, which my parents attended. In fact, I still have a photo from that in my living room, and I look at it quite often on those days that I find particularly challenging.

But I do believe that each individual has to work their hardest, that we have to work collectively, that all of us have to play a role. And I think leadership comes from everywhere. I think there're women who in our community are impacting young people. Parents - the role of parents in our society is critical. And leaders don't have to be someone who's out in the press and out front. I think some of the most important leaders today are the ones who are getting things done quietly in their community and making a difference.

MONTAGNE: And I just have one last question. A moment ago you referred to looking at this photograph from the civil rights era in your childhood on a bad day. What would be a bad day?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FUDGE: Where do I start? I wasn't necessarily talking about a bad day, relative to civil rights, but a tough day like - oh, my gosh. Why did I follow this career path? So it could be anything. It could be a range of things. But I say that to say this. Look what happened as a result of perseverance, determination, commitment, and the effort of thousands of people. And I look at that and I say there is no turning back. There is only going forward and there's only continued progress.

MONTAGNE: Ann Fudge, thank you for talking with us.

Ms. FUDGE: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Ann Fudge is CEO of Young and Rubicam Brands, the global marketing communications company. She spoke to us from our studios in New York.

You can hear all of our conversations with black thinkers on black leaders at npr.org. this NPR News.

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