Black History Month — our annual celebration of Black Americans’ achievements and our opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the role they’ve played in our nation’s history — marches on. For some, each February is a time of public pronouncements. For others, it requires quiet reflection.
For our profession, there’s a bit of both.
Celebrating the first Black CPA
On Feb. 1, a number of accounting organizations launched the “2021 Black CPA Centennial” campaign, an effort to “recognize Black CPAs in the U.S. and continue to make impactful strides across diversity, inclusion, and equity across the CPA profession,” Accounting Today reports. In particular, the campaign focuses on 2021 as the 100th anniversary of John Cromwell Jr. becoming the nation’s first registered Black CPA.
“As we work to continue building a more diverse and inclusive profession, it’s important that we recognize the efforts of those who broke down barriers,” AICPA Director of Diversity and Inclusion Crystal Cooke said in a statement. “By earning his CPA license, John Cromwell helped pave the way for future generations of Black CPAs and fueled the profession’s journey toward greater diversity and inclusion.”
Learn more about the year-long campaign by visiting BlackCPACentennial.cpa.
Resolution celebrates Black history
The MACPA, too, has joined the profession’s chorus of voices celebrating the achievements of Black Americans.
At its Jan. 21 meeting, the MACPA’s Board of Directors passed a resolution in honor of Black History Month and the Black CPA Centennial. The resolution reads:
WHEREAS 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the first Black CPA and February is Black History Month; and
WHEREAS John W. Cromwell, Jr., became the first Black CPA in the United States of America in 1921, and Mary T. Washington Wylie became the first female Black CPA in 1943 and provided the opportunity for many African Americans to pursue their dream to become CPAs; and
WHEREAS Six Black CPAs from Maryland are included in the first 100 list, including Benjamin L. King, Sr. the first Black CPA in Maryland in 1956, and Christanta Ricks-Johns, the first female Black CPA in Maryland in 1970, who together with the Black CPAs after them, paved the way as mentors and role models for today’s Black CPAs; and
WHEREAS we recognize and reflect on the influence and impact Black CPAs have had in shaping our profession in Maryland and our country; and
WHEREAS Maryland has played an important role in advancing African Americans in the CPA profession and in state society and AICPA leadership, including the first Black state society MACPA Chair, Graylin Smith in 2002, the first Black Maryland State Board of Accountancy Chair, Benjamin L. King, Sr. in 1969; and the first Black AICPA Chair, Maryland’s own Kimberly Ellison-Taylor in 2016; and
WHEREAS the Maryland Association of CPAs is committed to increasing diversity in the CPA profession, and together with the Illinois CPA Society, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Diverse Organization of Firms Inc., National Association of Black Accountants Inc., and National Society of Black CPAs Inc., recognizes the importance of celebrating and honoring the 100th anniversary of the first Black CPA; and
WHEREAS in February and throughout 2021 we will acknowledge some of the first Black CPAs and share their stories through celebratory and educational events, culminating with a special event November 11-12 in Chicago.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Maryland Association of CPAs recognizes 2021 as the 100th anniversary of the first Black CPA and February as a month honoring Maryland’s rich history of Black CPAs and expresses its deepest appreciation for those who paved the way for diversity in our profession.
“Accounting and finance professionals the world over are committed to building a more diverse, equal and inclusive profession. To do that, though, we have to recognize where we’ve been and how far we still have to go,” said Avonette Blanding, chair of the MACPA’s 2020-21 Board of Directors. “This resolution pays tribute to those who came before us and took the first steps toward making our profession more inclusive and welcoming. We can’t get where we need to be without recognizing what they did to bring us here.”
Looking back … and ahead
In a quieter reflection, George Willie, managing partner at Bert Smith & Co. and one of the profession’s most influential CPAs, sat down with me recently for a conversation about how far our profession has come in terms of diversity and inclusion — and how far it still has to go.
“There was a drive, a feeling of, ‘You know what? We’ve come this far, and we’re not going to be defeated,'” Willie told me of his early experiences and those of other young Black CPAs. “I often tell people that if you put your mind to it, if you’re driven and you have the support of those at home, you can do it. A large number of us decided early on that we could do it.”
The examples set by John W. Cromwell Jr., and Mary T. Washington Wylie, and Benjamin L. King Sr., and Christanta Ricks-Johns, and George Willie, and so many others paved the way for those who followed. The examples we set today will help build the blueprint for our profession’s future.
Let’s build that future on a foundation of diversity, equality, and inclusion.