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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Inclusion Matters Inspiration Props

Black History is Our History

That’s My Mom! Photo Credit: James Petrozzello

When I was in about the fourth or fifth grade, I was invited to a Halloween party. There was a costume contest and each of us had to say who we were and give some kind of blurb. Inspired by my mother I went as an official, working for some department (I can’t remember now) and my work had to do with justice and equality. I received the prize for most original costume. At a party full of superheroes, fairies, and movie characters, perhaps a public servant was a truly original costume. Often, though, when I think about it I feel that those parents felt sorry for my quite nerdy self. I don’t regret it – my mother continues to be my shero.

At this intersection of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, I think about how histories, ancient and as modern as just yesterday impact our present and our future. Then I got to thinking about my mother and her sisters and their influences on me, both overt and covert. They figure among the building blocks that make me.

When my grandmother was a young woman in pre-independence Zimbabwe, she traveled to the United States on a trip organized by the YWCA. When she returned home, her telling of her experiences, especially her trip to the Statue of Liberty, inspired her daughter, my mother, to go to the United States for college. I write this casually, like it was an easy thing for my mother but at the time, in her own country, she did not even have the right to vote, and needed permission to get a passport. Somehow, she figured out a way and she started out at the University of Rochester before she transferred to Mount Holyoke. It would be cute if she decided to attend one of the Seven Sisters because she herself was one of seven sisters but I am guessing her decision had more to do with her boyfriend, a fellow Zimbabwean whom she had met at a party in New York City and was getting his master’s in geology, down the road, at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. After Mount Holyoke, she too went to UMass Amherst and got her master’s in education, and they soon embarked on their next adventure. My parents moved to Zambia where my father worked as a geologist for an American company and my mother taught high school history at the International School of Lusaka. I once came across a yearbook from the International School in one of my mother’s storage trunks. In it, under her photo, her quote was “I am a citizen of the world” and I imagine one reason she felt that way was because she was barely seen as a citizen of her own nation.

After my little sister passed away, in February 2019, I spent several months in Zimbabwe with my mother and her sisters, appreciating anew what phenomenal women they are, and learning more of their histories. After my parents attended university, they decided to pay it forward, each helping a sibling to get to the United States for university. At the time, Zimbabwe was still not independent, and my mother’s younger sister could not get a passport. But she was determined to get out and go to school. At a point in her journey across the border from Zimbabwe into Zambia, she was hidden in the back of a long haul truck, among crates of dried fish and rice. When she finally reached Lusaka and my father went to pick her up she was so frighteningly unrecognizable that my father, fearing the experience might cause a miscarriage, took my aunt to get washed up and changed before my then heavily pregnant mother saw her sister. After my aunt made it to the United States and university, she too paid it forward and brought another sister over for school.

Hearing the histories that my mother and her sisters shared I realized that, as with many marginalized peoples, we often do not hear about their struggles but we reap the benefits of their perseverance. I was with my mother during an impossible time and it was also a time to look at my grandmother’s daughters and see how I what they have done has made me. It was a time to be reminded how they have lived lives where, like the Coles sisters, they follow their desires and won’t be deterred and that is a spirit they have encouraged in their children. It is also a spirit that stands strong for what is right and a spirit that believes in the power of community. When my mother visits us in New York, she loves to take daily walks alone. I have no idea what she gets up to but it must involve a lot of chatting because, long after she leaves the subway station guy or the grocery store employee asks after her. She builds and maintains communities, believing that this is how we all help each other achieve what we seek. And she does do this, starting with the formidable core of her sisters.

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AICPA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Inclusion Matters Inspiration NYSSCPA PSA Where We Are

Building Generations

Photo by Jeppe Hove Jensen on Unsplash

When Bernadine Coles Gines, the first Black woman to receive a CPA license in New York, was a kid, she and her little sister, Dr. Ruth Coles Harris, were so into playing office that Bernadine once asked Santa to bring her paper clips for Christmas. So it really is no surprise that Dr. Coles Harris and Ms. Coles Gines, were both valedictorians of their class in elementary school, high school, and college. Following in Bernadine’s steps, Ruth attended Virginia State College, and majored in Business Administration at the undergraduate level. One of the required classes was accounting and it turned out to be her favorite. “I could just stay up all night working.” But it was 1948 and, because there were practically no opportunities for CPAs in the United States at that time, none of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) offered accounting as a major. As I have mentioned, the two year work experience requirement meant most Black people were excluded from the CPA profession.

The head of the business administration department at Virginia State College at the time, Dr. George Singleton, was the fifth Black graduate of New York University’s (NYU) school of business administration. He encouraged both sisters to follow their dreams and work towards becoming CPAs, as impossible as that path appeared at that time. The sisters both moved to New York and attended graduate school at NYU, both majoring in accounting. After graduation, the homesick Ruth moved back to Virginia, to be a professor at Virginia Union, while Bernadine went on to make her historical mark on the New York CPA profession.

Back in Virginia, there were no opportunities for Dr. Coles Harris to become a CPA – accounting firms would not hire her to fulfill the experience requirement, but she did not give up hope. When Ms Coles Gines became a CPA, Dr. Coles Harris was even more motivated – if Bernadine could do it, so could she. In 1962, Dr. Coles Harris decided to take the CPA exam. As a professor she felt that she could not encourage her students to take an exam, one that had low pass rates, that she was unwilling to take herself. On her first try, she passed all but one part of the exam. Five months later, the opportunity to take the outstanding part in Virginia Beach but, because of segregation, there were no hotels in Virginia Beach where she could stay. The thought crossed Dr. Coles Harris’s mind of making a civil rights stance, but she decided to defer that moment and, instead, focus on getting the exam done (you have to pick your battles). She found a hotel in the nearby town of Norfolk. Dr. Ruth Coles Harris passed that exam and, in 1963 became the first Black Woman to receive a CPA license in the State of Virginia, making her own history nine years after her sister.

100 years after the first Black person received his CPA license, there are still very few Black CPAs. Per the AICPA, in 2018, only 2% of CPAs in U.S. CPA firms were Black and only 1% of partners were Black. A recent CalCPA and IMA study noted eight factors that contribute to the lack of diversity in the CPA profession:

  • Lack of exposure to the profession prior to college
  • Stereotypes regarding lower mathematical aptitude
  • A disproportionally higher need to begin earning income immediately after receiving a bachelor’s degree
  • Discrimination experienced by parents or earlier generations from the business community
  • Insufficient support during college
  • Lack of business school professors with whom diverse talent identifies
  • Perceived exclusive environment and inequitable treatment within the profession
  • Lack of visible, successful diverse talent in senior levels of the profession

In the CPA Journal, NASBA’s Alfonso Alexander shared how the CPA profession is a generational one where most CPAs have a family member who is or was a CPA, giving them exposure to the profession. Many people of color do not have anyone in their network who can explain what a CPA is and what opportunities are in the profession. A history of exclusion led to a lack of diversity in the CPA profession and, as a result there are still very few Black families that include a CPA who can expose future generations to the profession. Instead, these future generations may stumble upon the exposure through a teacher or professor, as with the Coles sisters, or once they have started their careers, when they cross paths with a CPA through work.

To address this challenge, in 1980, the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) launched the Accounting Career Awareness Program (ACAP) to fill the generational role for underrepresented ethnic groups and “increase the understanding of accounting and business career opportunities”. Working with NABA, the New York State Society of CPAs created the Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program in 1987, to be a part of this vitally important work. I have met CPAs who are products of ACAP or COAP and all of them have told me that they are CPAs because of those programs. We cannot understate that value – even if the ACAP and COAP students do not become CPAs themselves, they can now, armed with a greater understanding of what a CPA is, encourage a friend or family member to consider the profession.

Bernadine Coles Gines and Ruth Coles Harris were both extremely driven and smart women, who each graduated at the top of their class, yet they had to face incredible challenges to attain their CPA licenses. They had a role model in a professor who exposed them to accounting, supported them in college, and encouraged them to strive even though they faced discrimination. As Ruth Coles Harris stated, the exam is difficult enough and, if we want an inclusive profession, we need to address the other factors that are keeping some out.

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AICPA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion In The News Inclusion Matters Inspiration Props Where We Are

The Past, The Present, The Future

John W. Cromwell

If the way things are had nothing to do with what has come before, history wouldn’t be something taught at school. However, we learn in many arenas that the past plays a big part in shaping the present and the future. Both graphite and diamonds are carbon, nothing but carbon, yet they are very different from each other because of the environment in which they are formed. What happened to the carbon in the past, determines whether is a diamond or graphite today. Is there any story that we can tell that does not involve cause and effect?

On April 17, 1896, the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation was established in law in New York. 25 years later, in 1921, John W. Cromwell became the first Black CPA. This year we celebrate the centennial of his achievement and the doors Cromwell opened. When, as a member of the class of 1906, Cromwell graduated from Dartmouth, he was its top science student and then went on to get his masters, also from Dartmouth, in 1907. Despite these achievements, it was 15 years before Cromwell became a CPA, and not through any fault of his.

A native of Washington, D.C., Cromwell had returned home after graduation and discovered that he faced two barriers. First, because he was Black, he was not allowed to sit for the CPA exam in Washington, D.C., Virginia, or Maryland. He also faced a barrier, that would stymie many Black people who wished to become CPAs – the experience requirement. In those states, in order to become a CPA, you were required to work under the supervision of a CPA, something that became the biggest barrier, for Black people, to become a licensed CPA. Even as recently as the 1960’s Bert Mitchell, who was the 100th Black CPA in the United States, struggled to find a job with an accounting firm. Despite graduating at the top of his class, 25 firms would not hire him, using their clients’ attitudes (it could never be their own) toward people of color as an excuse. A window opened for Cromwell in 1921, when New Hampshire instituted CPA laws that did not mandate the experience requirement, and Cromwell took advantage of the opportunity. He traveled to New Hampshire, sat for, and passed the CPA exam in 1921.

Fulfilling the academic requirements of the CPA license is difficult enough – right now, only about half of those who take the CPA exam pass it, and back then an even smaller fraction passed. Now, imagine that you had to wait 15 years, and travel over 500 miles, just to be allowed to even try to suffer through it, despite having graduated from an Ivy League school, at or near the top of your class. Because of their race, the first Black CPAs faced and overcame groundless barriers that had nothing to do with their abilities and everything to do with people’s biases, discriminatory views, and actions.

100 years ago, when Cromwell became a CPA, he became an example of the possible and opened the way for others to follow. Perhaps in 1926, when Cauncey L. Christian took the CPA exam in Kentucky, Christian was braver because Cromwell had shown what was possible. Christian sat for the exam at a time when the exam was not open to Black people. So, in that exam room, Christian had a concern that the other 49 White men taking that exam did not. Although Christian was light skinned enough to pass for white, he must have been fearful of his race being discovered. But, because of his courage, out of the 50 men who took the CPA exam, Christian was one of 7 who passed and, by doing so, became the third Black CPA in the United States. As each Black CPA was licensed, more Black students saw a path to the profession opening up for them as well.

2021 is the Black CPA Centennial and, in commemoration of the trail that John W. Cromwell blazed a century ago, several organizations, including organizing partners the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), Diverse Organization of Firms, Inc., Illinois CPA Society, National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), and National Society of Black CPAs (NSBCPA) will recognize Black CPAs and push for greater progress. The themes of the centennial are honoring the past, celebrating the progress that has been made, and continuing to build the future.

As we learn about the history of our profession, the pioneers, the challenges, and the triumphs, it should help us better understand its current state. The more we know about the history of exclusion, the better we can understand the lack of diversity and the lack of inclusion of various demographics, especially in leadership positions. We should think harder and question if the status quo exists for any better reason than the environments that existed in the past. We should remember and honor those who, in addition to having to work hard had to find their success, had to navigate around or through the arbitrary biases of others. Most of all, we should look at our present and what we can do now to create an environment that builds a future of belonging, equity, and inclusion in our profession.

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Inclusion Matters Inspiration PSA

History Matters

Photo by jurien huggins on Unsplash

History matters. Looking back at events not only gives us the 20/20 vision of hindsight, we also learn lessons from it. We see the things that change our lives in positive ways, we see the seeds of brilliance and we can build on them, and we see the things we can learn from and try not to do again. The history that we learn, through books, school, and other sources, highlights the history makers and, in insidious ways that we barely notice, creates an image of these history makers. Because humans write history, we should never forget that often what we learn is what those humans choose to record.

In 1891, following the loss of the Civil War, a former congressman of the Confederate States of America, Missouri Senator George Graham Vest, said, “history is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.” If those victors decide that a history is not worth noting, or if they feel that history does not align with the history they want to tell, they may decide to ignore that history, leave out parts of that history, or just go ahead and assign the history in the way they choose. As a result, some aspects of history have been amplified while others have been muted or erased. The March 27, 1964 edition of Time Magazine noted that the most widely used eighth-grade history text book in the United States mentioned only two Black people by name as having lived since the Civil War. It was this invisibility which led James Baldwin to remark, “When I was going to school, I began to be bugged by the teaching of American history because it seemed that history had been taught without cognizance of my presence.”

The historian, Carter G. Woodson, recognizing the dangerous impact of being left out of the telling of history lamented, “If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it become a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” In 1926, seeking to correct that and to strive for a more balance history, he launched Negro History Week during the second week in February because it included both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays. In 1976, the week became the entire month of February, when President Gerald Ford urged Americans to observe Black History Month. President Jimmy Carter officially recognized Black History Month in 1978.

There are people who don’t understand why there is a need to have a Black History Month or, for that matter a Women’s History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian American Heritage Month, or any month or other event that highlights a demographic. Shouldn’t it just be history. It should. However, because of who has been getting to decide what history looks like, these historically underrepresented groups have not been given voice. When history happens, it is not automatically recorded in a ledger for all to see. It waits for someone to choose to tell it and we can only hope that person is being as objective and thorough as possible.

In Boston, Massachusetts, in 1716, an enslaved West African man, who was given the name Onesimus by his master, Cotton Mather, told Mather that he knew how to prevent smallpox. Although Mather was skeptical, he verified Onesimus’ story and then spread the world through Massachusetts and elsewhere. Instead of relief at the discovery that could save lives, Mather was vilified for suggesting a medical procedure developed by or for Black people. An explosive device was thrown through Mather’s window with an angry note attached to it. When, in 1721, a smallpox outbreak swept through Boston, only 6 of the 242 people Mather inoculated died (1 in 40), compared to the 1 in 7 among the population of Boston that did not receive this treatment. In 1796, 80 years after Onesimus shared his knowledge with Mather, Edward Jenner developed a vaccine for smallpox and the disease was declared eradicated in 1980.

Every day, we should seek to know more inclusive and expansive histories. During those times when a spotlight is shone, we should pause and challenge ourselves to purposefully seek out histories we never imagined existed. Today, I learnt that one in four cowboys was Black. Phillis Wheatley was the first Black female author to be published, and did that at 12 years old. As more and more of our lives are recorded on CCTV and other surveillance cameras, we can thank Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband, for the first innovations in home security systems.

I challenge you to find something that surprises you and learn about about the Black woman who took down Lucky Luciano. Or maybe you might find something that makes your life a little easier. Or find and share something that we don’t even know about. Let’s add layers to history and transform the image of the history makers and enter history without preconceived ideas of who our history makers are. Because, really, anyone can make it.

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From The Radio In The News My Two Cents PSA

Know When to Hold Them

I am the absolute worst gambler. Several years ago, I headed out to Las Vegas to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday, spent a lot of time in the casinos, and very little time gambling. My friend discovered that if she was sitting in front of a slot machine, occasionally pushing the button, she got drinks for free. Sitting next to her, I benefitted from this perk. Thus, we spent a lot of the long weekend chatting and sipping on drinks, while hanging out near a slot machine. It was a lot more fun than it generally has been when I lose my money in a casino. I am sure there are may strategies and techniques that people employ when gambling, but I don’t even know the theories, so I tend to essentially throw my money at a machine or croupier and hope for the best.

When it comes to some financial terms that are being bandied about in discussions about GameStop, I can at least try to explain what the terms mean. I find that what is going on in the stock market right now involves many short words that may be more complicated than they sound. Hopefully, clarifying them will help us all get a better idea of what is going on. I am going to speak about shares (because that is what is at play with GameStop) but these financial terms apply to all kinds of securities. Securities are financial instruments that are tradable and fungible, or mutually interchangeable. The fungible characteristic is what makes securities so easily tradable. Securities being fungible means that they are for all practical purposes, considered to be identical and can be exchanged for one another. You can exchange one $20 bill for two $10 bills. In contrast, though they are both seats one does not consider a front row seat to be the same as a back row seat, especially if everyone in front of you is way taller, so these seats are non-fungible.

I shall start out by talking about buying on margin. In the stock market, when you buy on margin, it means that you are buying securities using only a percentage of your own money. For example, say you want to buy a share for $100 but only have $10 to your name. You approach your local broker and that broker agrees to lend you $90 to get you to the $100 to buy that share. Because just about nothing in life is free, the broker charges you 10% interest on the $90. In a year, you decide to sell that share. When you do that, you will need to repay the broker $90 plus $9 in interest. If you skipped over those sentences because you saw numbers and didn’t want to to math, buying on margin means you only need to use a fraction of the money needed to buy shares and you can borrow the rest, paying interest. If you are able to sell the shares for more than what you paid to buy it, that’s great. You can use your profit to pay back your loan (plus interest) and happily take the rest home with you to do with as you please. However, if the price of the shares goes down, you will lose your money and may have to find money elsewhere to repay your loan. In the United States, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) generally requires that a customer use 50% of their own money for their first time or initial purchase of securities. People who want to short sell securities, also need margin accounts.

For all the people who are optimistic about share prices and financial markets, there are those who look at securities and believe that the value of the securities will go down. Some may call these people pessimists, and these people may call themselves realists. Po-tay-to or Po-tah-to, these folks seek to benefit from their price downturn point of view by doing what is called short selling (or shorting) the security, and this is how shorting works. Pessireal (as we shall call them) goes to their broker and says, “I would like to borrow one $100 share of Tulip stock. Everyone is all about Tulip these days, but I just don’t see that ending well.” The broker will then sell a $100 share of Tulip stock, and give the $100 to Pessireal, less any transaction fees (again, nothing for free). Pessireal will then sit back, wait, and watch the market. If Pessireal’s gut is correct about Tulip and that the value of the share goes down to $50, Pessireal will take $50 of the $100 and buy a share of Tulip stock which they will give to the broker to, as they say, close the short position. So, Pessireal is giving back the borrowed share and has made $50 (less fees) while they’re at it.

Suppose, however, that Pessireal is wrong about Tulip, it becomes the best thing since sliced bread, and nothing can keep its price down. Pessireal may realize the error of their ways and decide to cut their losses when the share price is $200. In addition to the $100 they got from their borrowed share, Pessireal will have to spend an additional $100 of their own money to buy the share they need to return to the broker. Although this is rare, sometimes it is the broker who may decide that they want their share back. It could be because the broker has been watching Tulip’s share price going up and when it gets to $300 a share, they start to fear that Pessireal won’t be able to pay them back. So they call Pessireal up and, despite’s Pessireal’s attempts to assure them that Tulip’s demise is on the horizon, they demand their share be returned. This means, whether they like it or not, Pessireal will have to find an additional $200 to bring the $100 from the borrowed share up to the $300 needed in order to buy a share of Tulip and return it to the broker.

With the regular trading of securities, the worst that can happen is that the value of your investment can go down to zero. That hurts but at least you know that the most you can lose is what you put in. The best that can happen is pretty much infinite. Your gain is whatever the price of the security goes up to be, over what you put in. Short selling is the opposite. You can calculate the most you can earn on a security – the lower the price goes, the more you make, up until the security is worthless. On the very scary flip side, the most you can lose is pretty much as high as the share price soars, which could be, as GameStop short sellers are finding out, can be pretty darn high. Brook Gladstone, the host of On The Media, shared that she spent almost $1,000 on 42 shares of GameStop stock in 1999 and by April 2020, that investment was worth $3.50 a share – $147. She sold her shares when they were at $100 a share. Most of last year, GameStop’s stock was valued at $250 million. The stock has exploded to a point where GameStop’s stock value is around $20 billion! If you are a short seller, that hurts.

The last thing I will mention here is the short squeeze. Say, Pessireal was not alone in thinking that Tulip’s share price was going to crash, and that many had decided to short Tulip but, instead, that price was soaring. Some short sellers may take a look at the soaring price and at their sources of funds and decide that they were ready to cut their losses. If there were enough of these short sellers looking to buy Tulip shares so that they could return them to their brokers, and close the short position, this higher demand could push the share price even higher. Right now, with GameStop (and other stocks) there are a lot more people looking to buy shares than are looking to sell. The trusty supply and demand chart comes in to show how the increased demand will increase the price. The short sellers, looking to cut their losses and repay their borrowed stock, are, in turn, squeezing that price up too.

I can’t say when and how this will end; I am no good at the Vegas game. Heck, I can’t even let what happened in Vegas stay there. I do, however, hope that as you read or listen to stories that are throwing out financial terms, you will nod along and think – I get it.

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Uncategorized

No Need for a Steeplechase

Last week, Kamala Harris made history. She became the first woman, the first Black person, and the first Asian American to become Vice President of America. This is a big deal. There may be those among us who believe that the world is a fair and equitable place where if one is qualified and works hard, they can be all they want to be. Perhaps those people believe that there is no glass ceiling and the reason why women and/or people of color have never attained something is simply because they are not qualified or don’t put in the hard work. For the, perhaps, more cynical among us, this is a big deal because it means that there is an unnecessary obstacle (at least part of it) has been broken down. I feel as though I can perhaps personalize Neil Armstrong’s famous “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” quote. However, I just spent way too long trying to decide if he said “man” or “a man” and now there is no time for personalization.

People living in the fifth century B.C. believed that the sun and the moon were gods. Among them was a man, Anaxagoras, who believed otherwise. He studied the sun and the moon and came to the conclusion that the sun and the moon were not gods but, in fact, objects. This is something that we take for granted now but, back in the fifth century B.C. this led to Anaxagoras being arrested and sentenced to death for “impiety”. Fortunately, he escaped death but ended up in exile, because he was, in essence, thinking outside society’s box.

Fast forward to the age of now, where those who speak of colonizing Mars are celebrated and revered. We live in an age where the dreaming impossible dreams is encouraged. It is only if you dream it and believe it that those dreams can come true and make our world better. Someone even dreamt about and claims to have created high heeled shoes that are “truly comfortable”, and that is something I believed could never happen (between us, I kinda still do). As the shortest child in my family, I have spent a lot of time trying to be less short. I have worn many pairs of high heels and while some have been torturous to wear, some have been less painful, but none have been as comfortable as my sneakers. I am skeptical, yes, but I would be happy to be proven wrong.

After inauguration day, I was listening to the news, as I worked through some morning stretches and was struck by some words that were shared with respect to Kamala Harris and her journey to the Vice Presidency. I was mid-stretch and wrote what I remembered so these words will mostly likely be paraphrasing. Kamala Harris spoke about how “I always believe in myself… I don’t always believe in others”. This is the journey of many. They look at something and they know they can do it but others who stand in the path, consciously or unconsciously, do not believe it and throw up arbitrary obstacles. In 1958, Clennon Washington King Jr. tried to enroll in the University of Mississippi’s graduate program in history. He was the first Black person to try to do so and, for his efforts ended up in a state asylum, apparently crazy for even thinking he could try, even though he held a bachelor and master’s degree and had been teaching in various colleges. In this day and age, leadership may not advance African American employees because they believe African American employees need to work on “developing soft skills while demonstrating technical proficiency“, while assuming that all other employees are proficient at both. People may throw out statements that women cannot hold positions of power because they are too emotional, apparently oblivious of the successful women in power, and the men who did just fine and embraced their emotions. It is a relief to know that we are not putting people in asylums for daring to try to be the first to do something, not because they want to be first, but because they want to do it and believe they can. However, we still have a ways to go.

It is understandable that many choose to not take the road of being first, because many who are the first are subjected to more scrutiny. A second thing I heard during my news-stretch was “if you are first, we will pick you apart”. This may be our unconscious attempts to rationalize why that person is only just now becoming the first. We may be seeking to find justification that this has happened, not because of any biases, unconscious or not, that we may have, but because that demographic just cannot do the job. If, for example, that first is a woman, it may not matter that many of the men who came before her were terrible at that job or that she is better at that job than the standard expectation of the men who have held that job. We may expect her to do the impossible, to breathe without oxygen, in order to prove herself.

We all have biases, including those among the underrepresented. Recognizing, accepting, and being mindful of this this is the first step. Then question your assumptions about the status quo and ask yourself if there is evidence to support your assumption. In the case of firsts, the answer will likely be no. Imagine what we lose out on because of our gut-feeling based assumptions. We may never have known an NBA hero could be 5’3″ or that someone who is 5’7″ could win the slam dunk contest. Or we may still be telling ourselves that the lack of diversity – age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical abilities, and on, and on – in the Vice Presidential roles is, without evidence, a reflection of who can do the job. It brings me joy to know that, with Kamala Harris in office, it is not the case any more. So, I am celebrating that crushed obstacle. It’s a big deal.

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Inspiration My Two Cents

Living the Dream

“The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.” As we celebrate Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday and legacy, I pulled up some of his quotes. His Dream Speech is one we know and hear but, as is the case with people, he was a lot more than one moment. Dr. King’s commitment to service and justice are examples to live by.

When Dr. King was alive, he was not always popular but he kept on because, as he said, “When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. ” Doing what he felt was right was often very hard for Dr. King. When I say hard, I don’t mean hard like when someone, like me, who is not a morning person, wakes up before the chickens in order to get my morning run in before my workday. I mean hard like if you decide to stand up for what is just, it may lead to the imprisonment, harm, or death of you and maybe even some of your loved ones. Dr. King, and those who he worked with, made unimaginable sacrifices in the service of others.

Sometimes, the thought of action can be so overwhelming that it keeps you in the thinking (and maybe watching videos about it) phase. When I first started running long distances, the furthest I had run was around four miles and I was spent at the end of those miles. Even though I watched New York Marathoners run past my block and they looked like regular folk, I believed they must be exceptional beings because, as far as I was concerned, regular folk couldn’t possibly run further than five miles without collapsing. I met a woman who urged me to start with trying to complete a 10k race and see how that went. Then she suggested a half marathon. You should have seen me at the end of that half marathon! You’d think I had found the answer to all life’s problems, that’s how elated I was. I then decided to tackle the marathon. As I had conquered each mile, I believed more and more that regular old me could be one of those running down Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, on my way to completing the New York Marathon. It took the little things to get to the greatness of the marathon. To get to that though, I had to inch from under the massive shadow of intimidation and inch slowly to 26.2 miles. It wasn’t always steps forward; I have lost count of how many times injury and illness have taken me back to mile one. However, I do know now that not even trying is so much worse.

Dr. King knew that service is not an easy thing to dive into and often we are so overwhelmed by all that needs to be done that we end up doing nothing. We don’t have to save the world all on our own. If we all do what we can, together we can do amazing things. In the words of Dr. King, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve… You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” Even during this pandemic, there are opportunities every day to serve and you don’t even have to figure it all out on your own. Organizations such as Americorps can help link you up with opportunities and there is an incredible range of ways in which you can serve, from sending card and letters to those who feel alone, to donating to food and clothing drives. You can also welcome and encourage service in others. When someone does something good for you, even if you don’t need it, show your appreciation and resolve to pay it forward. When someone holds a door open for you, it’s not because they think you don’t know how to open a door, it is a way of showing, in a small way, that they see you and want to do a nice thing for you. That a great thing. Don’t limit yourself to just the one day. May the National Day of Service be a reminder of the value of serving every day. Each of our small acts will bring positive change.

There are books, films, a podcasts about Martin Luther King Jr. I wouldn’t know where to start in recommendations. What I can say is that each time read, watch, or listen to something on Dr. King, I learn something new. I learn more about him, about the Civil Rights movement, and about those around him. Part of the Civil Rights movement is path to a place where more voices are heard and valued, and one marvelous gift that comes with hearing more voices is that we get to see and learn history through different sets of eyes. There is the parable of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man felt a different part of the elephant and came away believing that they knew what an elephant was. They argued with each other, each believing that they knew the elephant. Yet, the full picture of the elephant could only come through their collective knowledge. So take the time to find a new facet of the life and times of Martin Luther King Jr. and understand not only the impact of the good he did but also the remarkable challenges he faced throughout his life to his early passing. Celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right”.

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My Two Cents PSA

Taking It to the Bank

Image by Megan Rexazin from Pixabay

For a while now, I have been passionate about the need for us all to gain Financial Literacy as early in life as possible. In 2019, I spent a few days on a houseboat with family. On our first night, we got into a very animated conversation about financial literacy that stretched into the wee hours of the morning. I am sure the fact that two of my aunts and one uncle are all economists, and those of us who are not in finance are the offspring of financial folk, was a factor in the amount of time we spent talking about financial literacy. We talked about what it was, how people can gain literacy, and what kind of access people might have to it. To ensure adequate sleep during the rest of the trip, we had to agree to table financial literacy and perhaps talk about what fish was caught or wildlife spotted.

In April 2015 (April is financial literacy month) volunteering through the the New York State Society of CPAs (NYSSCPA), I was invited to be part of a project at the Office of the New York City Comptroller. The group included people from various community nonprofits, someone from the New York Public Library, and a few people who worked in the Comptroller’s Office. We started out with a blank slate and were asked to consider ways to contribute to financial literacy. Having come from different spaces, each of us saw unique challenges in our communities and organizations. As we talked, we came closer and closer to a unified thought. We started by talking about some of the common conversation pieces of financial literacy, like saving, investing, and financial planning. But then questions kept popping up – do we all have access to resources that make it easy to do these things? Some of the people in our group doing community work, talked about how many of their clients do not have bank accounts and may not know how to open one, have reservations about how safe their money might be in a bank account, or might face other barriers (such as language) when seeking to open an account.

I was surprised to learn that a significant percentage of New York City residents are either unbanked or underbanked. In 2017, 11.2% of households had no bank account and another 21.8 were underbanked. That is a third of the city without adequate access to a bank account who have to find alternate methods to navigate our world of money. Being unbanked can be a dangerous proposition – keeping significant amounts of cash in your home can make you a target for theft. Being unbanked can be an expensive proposition – the fees paid to cash pay checks, buy money orders to pay bills, and perform other financial tasks can add up quickly. At the same time often having a bank account with a small balance can attract hefty monthly fees.

A key aspect of financial literacy is access to information. During these meetings, we learnt that, in 1994, New York State enacted a law that required banks to offer lower cost banking services. The accounts, commonly known as Lifeline accounts are to have the following characteristics:

  • You can open an account with a deposit of $25
  • To keep the account open, you only need to have one penny as a minimum balance
  • The financial institution cannot charge you more than $3 a month to maintain your account
  • You can make at least 8 withdrawals a month at no charge
  • There are no restrictions or penalties regarding deposits. You can make as few or as many as you like.

These accounts existed at many banks (as required) but the banks were not required to advertise them. So many were not included in bank brochures and sometimes employees did not appear to know they existed. So, if we knew that there were banks around New York City that offered these lower cost banking services, how did we get the word out about them and help those who wanted them open an account? We had several meetings and then left the Comptroller’s office staff to work on a way to put our thoughts into a resource. We came back to, at least for me, a very impressive solution. A website called Take It to the Bank, where people could use various criteria to a banking option that worked for them. They could search within their zip code, they could search for a bank that provided language assistance (from Albanian to Yoruba), or they could search for a bank that was open on evenings and weekends. The Comptroller’s office also printed up pamphlets in various languages to be distributed in the City, to raise awareness. Once a person filtered for their criteria, they could print up the bank information and, as the website proclaimed, take it to the bank.

In June 2015, the website was up and good to go. From a discussion, a group of us from diverse spaces, considered our goals and purpose and tried to think out the challenges. First of all, New York City residents had a website that they could filter through based on their particular needs and desires. Community nonprofits could sit with those they serve, discuss needs and help their clients find a bank. The information could be printed up and presented to the bank. With the information in the printout, the bank staff could assist the client open a bank account. I was impressed and proud about my small contribution.

Literacy is often about what one has access to. When I was a kid, it was an exciting day when my mother took me to open my first savings account. The lessons that my parents shared with me about things like saving were lessons someone else had taught them. Financial literacy is not something that we are born with and it is not something that is magically granted to us when we become adults. The ability for all of us to manage our financial resources depends on the knowledge we can get access to. Every little bit counts and, with this resource, New Yorkers will know more about how to take their resources to the bank. It’s kinda cool!

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Inspiration My Two Cents What's Going On?

What’s Up 2021? My Three Words

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The last time I set my 3 words was in 2018, picking Imagine, Innovate, and Act. Led to Chris Brogan by Tom Hood, I was first inspired to do this in 2013. I appreciated the process of thinking about the year I had gone through and then considering the year ahead, and I liked the idea of having a theme song to guide my year. I am a runner and hills are my nemesis. Many years ago, I read that repeating a mantra such as “I love hills” as I soldiered up those slopes (and sometimes almost cliffs) would change my mindset and make things easier. I did find that coming to the hills with a predetermined script kept my mind and mouth from going to soliloquies that included, “When will this end?”, “My legs are dying”, and “Why doesn’t this get easier?” and throwing in a thumping rhythm did get me up and over those hills (it seems that mantra has set itself in my mindset. I talked about them in 2018 as well). If that works with the hills, I am finding that having my three words, putting them where I can see them, and referring to them often helps me reset and refocus. The title of my 2018 post about my three words included “We’ve Got This”, words in some form that I have whispered, muttered, and yelled to myself over the past couple of years and words that friends and family have encouraged me with often during that time. I love to dance and I am ready for my 2021 theme!

Gratitude: It is very easy to be grateful when you are at mile 10, on a hot day, and someone presents you with clean, cool water to drink. You don’t even have to think about the gratitude, your desiccated self defaults to waves of intense thankfulness. On cold, dark, rainy days when that alarm goes off and you have to drag yourself out of bed, finding a reason to be grateful is a challenge. Last year, I put a piece of paper on our fridge, with the heading “3 Good Things”. Every morning (that is the goal) my husband and I each write down 3 things that we are grateful for. Some days it is definitely more challenging to find those things but it is on those days that the 3 things are so vital.

The past year has been one filled with meditations on gratitude. Many of us have had to make unexpected, unplanned, and painful adjustments and it has been easy to lose sight of the silver linings. When gratitude hits me, it can touch me so deeply that it brings tears or it can excite and exhilarate me, like a shot of adrenaline. I intend to continue in prioritizing gratitude not only because of the many studies that tell us how important it is, but mostly because it reminds me of how amazing my life is due to the people, experiences, and things I am grateful for.

Purpose: This word danced its way into my 2021 brain. Purpose here is a many-layered word. I am constantly seeking purpose at the macro level, be it with my life or with my work. I am also thinking about purpose at the micro level. I have been practicing meditation for a bit now (and I have to remind myself it is a practice and a journey) and in addition to seeking a more mindful existence, I also seek purpose. Very little happens without purpose and intention and even more happens with it. So, not only am I asking myself, what is my purpose, I am also asking when I speak, think, or act, what is the purpose of this? I ask myself, what is the goal that I am trying to achieve here? When I get on my bike, I have a default happy flat places gear that it tends to be in. However, when things change – maybe I’m going up a hill, or maybe I want to accelerate – that default gear does not cut it, it takes me to a place full of effort and devoid of happiness. Pausing to think and adjust gets me to efficiently get back to my happy place. I am a person who always has a to do list longer than my arm, I am always trying to get things done and not be overwhelmed. I need that reminder to pause and find that purpose.

Evolve: I am all about evolution, even when I am dragged there, kicking and screaming. When I think about evolution, I imagine adjusting and growing to be better for now and the future. As inevitable as change is, generally humans are not very good at embracing it. I know I am not always good at it because, right now, I can hear my mother’s voice chastising me, “Rumbi, you have to be more open-minded”. But because there are so many wonderful things that have come out of my embrace of change, because there are also things that I now know are not for me because I embraced change and because, like it or not, everything is changing, I am looking to not just change but evolve. This evolution can be of my profession, of our workspaces, or of our relationships. At some point if you are not evolving, you are becoming a dinosaur and they didn’t live to tell the tale. Evolution is ultimately about being better, stronger, and all around more awesome. I’m in.

What were my words before?

2013 – Change, Discover & Motivate
2014 – Transform, Pursue & Collaborate
2015 – Receptive, Synergy & Service
2016 – Learn Fear & Community
2017 – Embrace, Persevere & Monchu
2018 – Imagine, Innovate, & Act

I hope that each of those themes are part of my evolution and journey.

Right now, I am grateful, and I am embracing evolution in my purpose. The sun is out. I made my first vision board. I have written my second blog post of 2021.

What are your 3 words? What are your gratitudes?

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Inspiration My Two Cents

Changing Things Up

Photo by Mark König on Unsplash

In March 2018, I was knocked to my knees when Linda, my closest friend, passed away suddenly, while heading home from a vacation. Eleven months later, in February 2019, I was flattened when my little sister, Veneka, passed away, equally unexpectedly. You know how it feels when you are knocked to the ground, and that monster is still sitting on your chest, and someone yells to you to get up. The struggle to standing can take all the energy that you have. You push that monster off of you and, even as you stand, that monster still lurks beside you, trying often to knock you over again. What energy I had left I focused on the functional necessities but I did not have energy for much else. My writing did not fare well. Often I would think about things but, as I do not yet possess the ability to have my thoughts magically transform into writing on a page, there have been many blank pages in my life these last few years.

Though my fingers have been less active, I have had no shortage of thoughts and, when I think, it is about a lot more than financial forensics. When I talk, it is about more than financial forensics. When I act, I do more than financial forensics. So, now when I write, I want to write about more than financial forensics. I have found that, at the core of my thoughts, my conversations, and my actions are the same principles. I want to keep doing that in this space, so we can explore how things like accountability, ethics, and systems are important in various parts of our lives and our work.

I believe that this sharing and these conversations we have, in our small spaces and in our small ways, can indeed alter the face of the world. I am getting out of my head a little bit to share the wisdom I find and to hear the wisdom from you. In this small space of a site, this is a big change so I am, as is human, nervous. However, to quote Babe Ruth, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from coming up to bat.” And this is where my baseball analogies will stop before I am outed as someone who grew up on rounders and then cricket, before baseball.

I’m up to bat!