The National Society of Black CPAs Works to Achieve MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice

Published on January 18, 2021

To say that 2020 was a tumultuous year is an understatement. We have had to deal with a global pandemic that has been sorely mismanaged in this country resulting in the deaths of nearly 350,000 Americans, unprecedented unemployment, and social unrest unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime. Sadly, these crises have highlighted the inequities that Black people experience and continue to experience every day. From the lack of access to good healthcare, to pay inequities for equal work, to the inability to enjoy a bird sanctuary in Central Park without a White woman weaponizing a Black man’s race against him when he had the audacity to ask her to leash her dog.

I naively thought that America was making progress towards diversity and inclusion in 2008 when an African American man was elected to the most powerful office in the country, the office of President of the United States of America. I reveled in the fact that the White House was going to finally be occupied by a family that looks like me. I wonder if the slaves that built it ever imagined that this day would come.

Despite the historical significance of Obama being elected to the highest office in the land, this country still struggles with racism, sexism and so many other “isms”. African Americans represent 13% of the population yet we do not have that same level of representation in our government or in many other professional industries like medicine, the law or accounting.

As an African American woman who is a Certified Public Accountant, I know first-hand how challenged this industry is with filling the pipeline and the profession itself with diverse talent, especially Blacks. We represent only 3 percent of accounting staff and less than one percent of us are partners at U.S. CPA firms even though the total number of African Americans in the U.S. is in the double digits.

The National Society of Black CPAs was launched as a solution for the lack of Black CPAs. Its goal and mission are to increase the number of Black CPAs and serve as a resource for Corporate America seeking to recruit, hire and retain diverse, talented candidates; as well as Corporate Board Members as we qualify as a financial expert required for public boards.

There are other organizations with similar goals and missions, but the NSBCPA is distinct and unique. To qualify for full membership, one must be an active or retired CPA in accordance with the state of licensure. Additionally, the CPA Exam Bootcamp® program is the only programming in existence specifically designed for Black CPA candidates. It helps Black CPA candidates prepare for and pass the CPA exam by providing financial support for course materials and mentorship throughout the process and beyond.

For corporations recruiting diverse talent, NSBCPA sponsorship or partnership provides access to the best of the best in the Accounting industry. To clarify, a CPA is not the same as an accountant. Typically, an accountant has achieved a bachelor’s degree in accounting. A CPA, or Certified Public Accountant, is a designation earned after meeting specific state and education licensing requirements and passing the CPA exam.

John Wesley Cromwell overcame steep racist barriers to become the first Black CPA in 1921.

While all CPAs are accountants, not all accountants are CPAs. The CPA license conveys an accountant’s commitment to meeting high standards, and accountability to the public. Also, we are required to complete 40 hours of continuing professional education every year.

Next year commemorates the 100th anniversary of John Wesley Cromwell, Jr. as the first Black CPA in the U.S. Mr. Cromwell attended Howard University and Dartmouth College, taught himself in Accounting and became a CPA in 1921. Because of discrimination, he was not allowed to sit for the CPA exam in Washington, D.C., Virginia, or Maryland so he took the exam in New Hampshire.

After becoming a CPA, Cromwell taught high school accounting in the District of Columbia. He worked exclusively within the Black community, and in 1930, became Comptroller of Howard University. In the early 1960s, 40 years after he earned his certificate, John Cromwell was still the only African American CPA in our nation’s capital.

As we celebrate the achievements that African Americans have made in Accounting and beyond, thus far, we cannot overlook the fact that there is still much to do to address the underrepresentation by Blacks in the profession and the less than 1% of Black CPAs. The National Society of Black CPAs is working to narrow or close this gap and looks forward to helping its CPA candidates pass their CPA exams and become CPAs with long, successful careers in Accounting and Finance.

Felicia Farrar is a Certified Public Accountant and Vice Chair at the National Society of Black CPAs. Based in Texas, she continues to enjoy her 18-year career with the IRS as a Joint Committee Specialist. She began teaching Accounting in 2009 and serves as an Adjunct Professor at Houston Community College. Felicia is an active member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Texas Society of CPAs in which she chairs the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Houston Chapter. Felicia is also a member of the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy CPE advisory committee. Felicia is an advocate for generation wealth in the Black community.

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