By Dianne Anderson
Kathy Johnson has seen the roadblocks many times before.
Just the thought of a few small strings attached to free money and scholarships is enough to keep some students from the competition to enter lucrative fields of finance and accounting.
Many don’t try because they mistakenly think they need to have a 4.0 GPA, but she said their scholarship process is nothing to be afraid of.
“Sometimes we’re finding that students fear applying for a loan because they don’t have to write an essay, but they are not reaching out to all of these groups that offer scholarships. This is free money they don’t have to pay it back,” said Johnson, Vice President of Alliance of Black Women Accountants.
September 30 is the deadline to apply for ABWA scholarship awards from $500-1000, which are issued quarterly. More recently, they are offering $5,000 in honor of their late founder and first ABWA president, Rosemarie Pamela Brown.
Students need to have a 2.75 GPA to apply, and must submit a 500-word essay to access the General Scholarship and the Rosemarie Pamela Brown Scholarship. She said most students shouldn’t have a problem with their relatively easy to meet requirements.
“We ask for 500 words, anything that talks about what they want to do or what they want out of life. They don’t have to be in accounting or finance, but we want them to put in the effort for the money,” said Johnson.
Depending on her schedule, she also teaches all aspects of accounting from beginning to graduate levels at four universities, including the Cal State system.
Seeing that Blacks in accounting represent a scant 4% of all Certified Public Accountants, the lack of diversity was the main reason they formed the association, but especially for Black women, that percentage is extremely small.
Whether they are in high school or college, she said it’s a great opportunity, but many students feel unqualified to enter finance fields. While a good grasp of foundational math is important, she said students don’t have to be mathematicians.
“It’s more about the process, procedures and rules and understanding relationships with numbers,” said Johnson, who is also an expert in forensic accounting and economics at a major firm.
“Whatever level that audience is at, that’s who we talk to, we try to meet where they are, and to let them know that with accounting and finance, even if they only know a little financial literacy can improve their lives,” she said.
The organization has about 100 members, and growing. They have several programs in local schools, but they are looking to work with more Black organizations to introduce the community at large to how to successfully handle their money.
“It doesn’t take a lot of money, I teach high school kids, we talk about a lot of the possibilities,” she said. “A lot of students don’t understand that they can start with $25 in the stock market.”
Each year, dynamic speakers and leaders in the finance fields come out to share their knowledge with their young women.
“We’re not perfect, we’re not millionaires, we’re just average, everyday Americans in financial fields, but we believe that if a young woman of color sees themselves in us then they can do it as well, and they can make a really good living,” she said.
Marjorie McPike, an accountant and ABWA member, said their organization seeks to raise awareness, and is working with several local middle schools and high schools with presentations.
She said they are currently calling on more collaborations to help the community build up knowledge and wealth.
“A lot of us, when you walk into a firm, you’re the only person who looks like you, whether female or Black, but a Black female is rare. That’s where we all came together, helping support women of color in the profession,” she said.
There is a huge disconnect that still exists in the community around finance. Understanding wealth building, such as how to start and keep investments and 401k’s growing is critical for Black families, especially in today’s economy.
In pre-pandemic 2019, about 40% of all Americans did not have enough money in the bank to cover $400 emergency costs, according to the Federal Reserve.
McPike said their emphasis is on raising community awareness and inspiring students around the importance of financial responsibility, and potential good-paying career choices.
“Entry-level salary in finance or accounting is about $40,000 or higher, depending on the area of finance or accounting they go into,” she said. “We don’t have those conversations that other people have at the dinner table, and that’s how we have to break the norm.”
To complete the online application for one or both of the scholarships, visit https://allianceofbwa.org/scholarships