Sankofa and How It Applies to the Accounting Profession
By: Lontier V. Hicks, CPA
As originally published in the February 2014 issue of Accountability, an eNewsletter from the Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance
Black History Month is a prime opportunity to learn and/or reflect back on the past accomplishments of African Americans in our country. The act of reflecting brings to mind the West African word, sankofa. Sankofa comes from the Afkan language of Ghana which translates to English as “reach back and get it.” It is a reminder that we must go back to our roots in order to progress. Sankofa is a concept I definitely agree with and try to embody through my contributions at Noir CPA (a blog I created to assist African Americans pursuing a career in accounting).
In the midst of making my decision to embark on the creation of Noir CPA, I came across a book that I knew would be imperative for me to read. A White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants Since 1921 penned by Theresa A. Hammond. It is a book I think not only every African American accountant should read, but all accountants should have on their bookshelves.
Among the major professions, certified public accountancy has the most severe under-representation of African Americans: less than 1 percent of CPAs are black. Theresa Hammond explores the history behind this statistic and chronicles the courage and determination of African Americans who sought to enter the field. In the process, she expands our understanding of the links between race, education, and economics.
Drawing on interviews with pioneering black CPAs, among other sources, Hammond sets the stories of black CPAs against the backdrop of the rise of accountancy as a profession, the particular challenges that African Americans trying to enter the field faced, and the strategies that enabled some blacks to become CPAs. Prior to the 1960s, few white-owned accounting firms employed African Americans. Only through nationwide networks established by the first black CPAs did more African Americans gain the requisite professional experience. The civil rights era saw some progress in integrating the field, and black colleges responded by expanding their programs in business and accounting. In the 1980s, however, the backlash against affirmative action heralded the decline of African American participation in accountancy and paved the way for the astonishing lack of diversity that characterizes the field today. (via Amazon)
A White-Collar Profession is a wonderful source to learn about individuals such as John Cromwell Jr. who became the first African American CPA in 1921 or the first African American female CPA by the name of Mary T. Washington. I implore you to not consider the stories of the remarkable men and women featured in the book as just African American history, but view it as American history as well as history of the accounting profession as a whole.
I believe it should be the duty of all members of the profession to exemplify the teachings of sankofa; to learn from the past in order to bring about change in the future. Accomplishing a goal such as increasing diversity will take our collective effort. The more individuals that can take that issue to task, the more the accounting profession will benefit. Whether it be a blog, tutoring, becoming a mentor, or lecturing to students about the profession, we all have the capacity to “reach back and get it.”
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