By Marla A. Matime
When you think of accounting and finance, you think of a predominately white male dominated industry. This is primarily because of how we, as a society, have been conditioned to think in terms of men being either the breadwinner of their households or one to lead Fortune 500 companies and leading in many industries that are cutting edge and innovative. A group of women in the Inland Empire decided that they wanted to change the narrative and invest and develop young Black women that were interested in the field of accounting and finance.
Leading the way, Rosemarie Brown, gathered five like-minded women and they formed the organization, the Alliance of Black Women Accountants [ABWA] in May of 2016, to mentor and coach young Black women, so that they can grow and lead in this arena. They officially launched the organization in September 2016.
The birthing of ABWA stemmed from many years of Rosemarie witnessing the disparities that she and other minorities faced in the workplace in larger CPA companies. She believed that connecting mentors with incoming professionals in the field, was significant to the growth and promotion of these young Black women. Having someone that looked like them, understanding their experience, was significant for these young women succeeding in this chosen career path.
To address the disparities that many young Black women face as they entered college, particularly as it pertains to funding; the organization started their general scholarship award, which initially granted $500 that their chosen recipient could allocate towards books, lodging, or whatever they needed during their time in school, in the first few years of its conception.
I spoke with two bright young ladies who are members of ABWA and also work in the field of accounting and finance.
Briana Reed expressed “I was introduced to ABWA by one of my friends in my accounting program at UCR. The first ABWA meeting I attended was held on campus. I really enjoyed the meeting and saw another friend there.”
Briana is a past recipient of the general scholarship that ABWA has granted since its inception. She received her ABWA scholarship in December 2019 during the ABWA Annual Holiday Party.
Pelumi Akiwowo learned about ABWA at an accounting and finance conference in 2016, that she attended to receive extra credit for her finance class at Chaffey Community College. She met board member Marjorie McPike, and the rest is history. Pelumi explains that she had applied for the scholarship when she heard about it at an ABWA meeting. She says, “Receiving the award was really really exciting, because at the time I was a community college student, who had no money and I needed funds to get a laptop to help me with school studies. I applied for the scholarship on ABWA’s website, I ultimately learned about it during one of the meetings and it was so exciting getting that scholarship because it helped me towards my education.”
Both young ladies work for Ernest & Young, a public accounting firm and have been diligent to get other young Black women interested in entering the field of accounting and finance. When I asked them about Rosemarie and the influence that she had, they both looked up to her with so much respect. Their shared experience to have someone in their lives, who understood what it was like to navigate their chosen field, gives them the confidence to excel in their work and help spark interest in others coming up behind them.
Pelumi had been so impacted and inspired by her affiliation with ABWA that she started her own non-profit organization, the Nibi Foundation, which means “here,” to support other women in Nigeria, to help them with financial literacy, start businesses, and get their education.
Sadly, Rosemarie passed away, November 16, 2020, in the middle of the pandemic from a medical emergency that was unrelated to COVID. Because of this unfortunate and untimely event, ABWA has launched its second scholarship fund to honor the founding member and previous president, the Rosemarie Pamela Brown.
I had an opportunity to speak with Rosemarie’s husband, Howard Brown. He shared with me when they met in high school and how they both migrated to the United States from Jamaica. Rosemarie moved to New York, and Howard moved to California. They maintained a long-distance relationship until Rosemarie decided to transfer to Cal State LA. He also described how caring and resilient she was, and that she demanded excellence in both her professional life and in the home as they raised their two sons together. He recalled how both of her grandparents were business owner and that she was an integral part of maintaining the businesses financial accounts. She was great at numbers and maintaining books at a very young age, which transpired into her going into the field of accounting and finance.
ABWA was born out of “Her personal experiences entering the profession, realizing that there were not that many people of color in the profession, but the few that were there were at a big disadvantage not having a mentorship program to help navigate the ins and outs of getting ahead and being successful within the profession,” explained Howard. He also described that she saw the need to have more people color within the field of accounting and finance that looked like her.
He also expressed gratitude for ABWA starting the Rosemarie Pamela Brown scholarship fund and describes it as being “special” and “an excellent way to honor her memory and to have something in place that will continue to impact young girls.”
Reflecting on the founding member, current President, Nefertiti Long; Vice President Kathy Johnson; and Corresponding Secretary, Marjorie McPike, provided insight on the character and heart of Rosemarie. Nefertiti said, “Rosemarie was truly a virtuous woman. She gave her all to everyone in her life. Her family, her friends, her community as well as her profession. Her passion for the community and ensuring young ladies entering the profession receive support and guidance was at the top of her mind when she started our organization. She also wanted to make sure women of color would gravitate to our group. This was evident in her insistence when we were discussing what our name would be, that it had to have “black women” in the name.”
Marjorie expresses that, “Rosemarie was Angela Davis in Accounting. She was professional but she was true to her culture and community. She had a way of telling you exactly what you needed to hear but doing so in a way that made you think. Although she was intentional about helping women/people of color in the profession, she did not reserve that passion for only her community. She was willing to help and speak up for anyone that deserved it. She wanted everyone to be successful in their careers and would do whatever she could to help.” Kathy recounts, “Rosemarie Brown helped to inspire in us the ability of Women of Color working together to help other women of color achieve their dreams. Because we have been able to become valued resources in the accounting and finance industry, she believed that if other women of color learned or our journeys and successes, our stories would help to they would be inspired also.”
When asked about their roles and passion for ABWA, the ladies all share the common thread of being a founding member yet seeing slightly different experiences through their individual lenses.
Nefertiti explained, that “As a founding member of ABWA I am proud to see how we have grown from five ladies sitting at Rosemarie’s kitchen table to a membership of up to forty and counting. When I go back in my mind to when I had the ah ha moment to major in accounting in school to starting and growing in my career, I reflect on a profession in which I have been challenged as well as experienced a great amount of success. It brings me joy to mentor and lead others to a path in which they can experience the same. Also, ABWA is a sisterhood, it is a safe place where we can let our hair down and talk honest and candid about some of the challenges we have encountered in the workplace where you are often the only one who looks like you at work.”
“I am a founding member and currently the recording secretary. Rosemarie and I spoke about forming an organization many years before ABWA came to be, we even considered an Inland Empire Chapter of NABA. I am passionate about helping people succeed and connecting them with other people and helping them navigate the challenges of public accounting. ABWA is a sisterhood, when we get together you can see and feel the love and support for each other. It’s a beautiful thing. I recall one time we were having a meeting and Rosemarie was running late because she was baking scones for us all. When I met her at the car, I told her she would be so happy to see all of the beautiful faces that were in the room. I am so happy and proud to be part of a wonderful organization!” said, Marjorie. Finally, Kathy describes, “ABWA for me is a place where I can network, give moral support and get moral support from others who have shared some of my struggles and share my dreams. It is a place where we believe we can make a difference in the lives of other women of color who desire to have a career in accounting and finance.”
When I asked about the importance of the scholarship funds, the three ladies exclaimed that, one of the criteria for being eligible to be considered for the scholarship is to join ABWA. This is so that the ladies within the organization have a support system that is already in place, that provides mentorship and guidance as they journey through their academic, and ultimately, field of accounting and finance. It also helps to cover some of the costs that many individuals of color incur on their academic path, so that financial support is given. Lastly, these scholarships help to motivate the students, inspire other students, and provides something for them to believe in, knowing that professionals in their chosen path, understands and relates to what they are about to embark upon. They have a unique opportunity to achieve “their own version of success,” states Kathy.
ABWA is currently accepting applications for both the General Scholarship Award and the newly initiated The Rosemarie Pamela Brown Scholarship until Thursday, September 30, 2021. Young Black women studying accounting and finance and entering into the profession, are encouraged to apply for the scholarships. To learn more you can visit https://allianceofbwa.org/scholarships/.
Interviews of Mr. Howard Brown, Pelumi Akiwowo, and Briana Reed will be on ABWA’s website.
Marla A. Matime is the Chief Operating Officer for Voice Media Ventures and occasional contributor of Black Voice News and the IE VOICE in Southern California.