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DURHAM, N.C. - North Carolina Central University will host the third in its Legacy of Leadership Lecture Series with the presentation of Ms. Valeria Lee, president of Golden LEAF Foundation (Long-term Economic Advancement Foundation) on January 27, 2005, at 7 p.m. in the Miller-Morgan Auditorium. As a steward of the $2.3 billion in investment funds from the tobacco settlement, Lee is positioned to profoundly influence the economic future of this state.

Lee’s career is a testament to the sometimes life-altering impact of travel abroad. Having grown up on a small farm in Halifax County, Lee moved with her husband to live in Turkey for more than two years in the pivotal decade of the sixties. Lee, an African American, experienced life without overt racism for the first time. Upon returning to the American South, she had a clearer view of her personal mission, to strive for equality of opportunity and social justice.

In 1967, Lee began her career in the public school system, working to effect racial integration and later, advance the Headstart Education Project.

Next, Lee brought an open forum for communication to counties surrounding her small town of Warrington, North Carolina, as founder and general manager of National Public Radio affiliate, WVSP, a 50,000 watt public radio station. Throughout her 12 years managing and producing programs for radio, she endeavored to bring issues of social equity to the forefront of the discussion in her community.

As a seeker of foundation funding for the radio station, Lee became acquainted with North Carolina’s philanthropic network and its power to effect change. In 1985, she left radio to assume the role of program officer for the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a private foundation awarding approximately $10 million in grants each year. Lee would focus on the review of proposals for funding that specifically impacted women, minorities and rural communities for the next 15 years.

In September of 2000, her varied background in education, the media and philanthropy as well as her rural North Carolina roots made Lee the candidate of choice for the presidency of the Golden LEAF Foundation.

The Foundation manages the investment of approximately $82 million per year for a term limited to 25 years. Its mission is to ease North Carolina’s transition away from a tobacco-based economy.

Among the diverse avenues of investment Lee and the Golden LEAF Foundation have pursued is the establishment of an infrastructure for the biomanufacturing industry in this state. This investment has included more than $40 million in venture capital and close to $70 million in funding for college and university research centers. For example, NCCU received $19.1 million for its Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Training Enterprise (BRITE) Center of Excellence, scheduled to begin construction in January of 2006.

Lee received her bachelor’s of science in business education at North Carolina Central University, her master’s of education at North Carolina State and her master’s in radio, television and film management at Ohio University.

Edith Thorpe, general manager of WNCU 90.7 FM, will interview Lee on stage at the Miller-Morgan Auditorium and the presentation is free and open to the public.

Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2005
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