A Black woman’s letter to Wall Street
Like so many other minorities, I began my career in finance with hopes and dreams for my future. I wanted to achieve the same level of success as my white counterparts. Success that comes from hard work, determination, and zeal. I believed in the American dream. The one that says you need to pick yourself up by your bootstraps. If you want it, nothing will stop you.
Well, I left my small Southern town, went to college and channeled all my ambition to aggressively mapping out a plan for my life and was willing to go after what I wanted. I felt the American dream was possible … until reality smacked me in the face. I quickly learned that I had to work twice as hard to get half as much. I came to work early, left late, and sacrificed weekends. I was penalized for the slightest infraction and never received a second chance, or the guidance and mentorship to grow. In many instances, my effort to prove myself got me nowhere.
My natural tendency was to keep it moving, believing there would be other opportunities for me. I couldn’t allow the experiences of being overlooked to ruin my confidence. Now in retrospect, I see I was at a juxtaposition between being a woman, Black, young, and naïve. I didn’t know how to play the corporate game, let alone know what the game was. I had to learn by watching, reading, asking questions of colleagues I trusted, having faith, and being open to receive the lesson.
I don’t look back at my journey with any regrets. Actually, I’m thankful for my experiences. They have made me who I am. Despite some of these negative incidents, I’ve met some wonderful people who have guided me. Are there things I wish I had done differently? Yes, but I refuse to live with regrets. Instead, I live with gratitude for a life I never imagined.
As a professional with years of experience, I hope to leave a mark that helps other African-American women. Being a Black woman financial planner, I know and respect our community’s history — from the financial devastation faced, being brought from Africa enslaved, giving our labor for free, losing all our savings in the first Black bank, Freedman’s Bank, to the destruction of whole communities like Tulsa, Oklahoma and Wilmington, NC.
Even now, as one of the fewer than 1,400 Black CFPs, I’m hoping to be a gateway to economic empowerment and generational wealth for the African-American community. At the center of that is Black women now and from our past, such as Maggie Walker, the first American woman bank president. Having a vision and building something you don’t see is a test of your endurance and fortitude especially when you are competing against companies with more resources and expertise in various areas of business.
Working on Wall Street, we are constantly reminded that our industry is built on communication, trust and relationships. Yet, internally in the workforce, we don’t always receive those same courtesies. Nonetheless, we forge ahead to ensure we provide them to our clients.
There are days I’ve felt wounded, hurt and discouraged but I keep focusing on the purpose implanted in me in spite of an upbringing that lacked monetary wealth. My strength comes from the richness I received from the relationships with my family, friends and community.
The journey, while fruitful, is hard. Yes, I have faced barriers and challenges, along with so many other Black women in finance. However, we sojourn on blazing a trail so others are able to move forward more easily. We do this work because we understand this isn’t just about us. It’s about our future, our children and community.