Grassi Team Members Share their Perspectives
As part of our firm’s observance of Black History Month, we asked three of our colleagues to share their stories and personal perspectives on the importance of remembering Black History year-round and celebrating the contributions of African Americans to our nation’s history and culture.
Our Grassi team members who joined us for this conversation are:
Pictured left to right: Samuel Alleyne, Audit Senior Manager; Alice Hankey-Paul, Tax Supervisor; Garry Wofford, Tax Senior.
What is your ethnic background and family origin?
Sam: I am from the Island of Barbados and migrated to the United States after high school.
Alice: I am originally from the Island of Grenada, located in the southern Caribbean. My parents’ ancestors were of African descent, as most people on the island are descendants of Africa.
Garry: My family is of African American descent, along with lines of Native American. My family lived primarily in the south, Georgia to be specific, and moved up to the New York/Virginia areas in the 1940s.
Why is it important to celebrate Black History Month?
Sam: Black History Month gives everyone a chance to share, celebrate and understand the impact of black heritage and culture on a multitude of arenas – everything from medicine and sports to arts and business. Black History Month offers a wonderful opportunity to shine a light on the achievements of many and honor them for their significant contributions. Celebrating Black History Month can be especially impactful for children as they become inspired to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them and dream big.
Garry: It is important to celebrate black history and recognize the culture. There are a lot of contributions that African Americans have made to society, even to this day, that need to be honored. I think it’s just as important for individuals to do their own research to understand other people’s cultures. We all share this world together, and we should learn to live next to one another peacefully. Also, 2008 was a turning point in our nation’s history when we elected the first black President, and now we have Kamala Harris as the first black female Vice President. These milestones are an amazing achievement for black culture and gives the younger generation something to look up to.
Alice: The historical impact of the black race in American society is huge, and individuals sacrificed a lot to build this country. Although I was raised in another country and did not come here until my thirties, I have still felt, seen, and experienced many of the inequities that exist. It gave me a rude awakening coming from Grenada because most people there looked like me. That said, it is important for us to engage, to be informed and at least try to understand the black experience. Try to feel the hurt, pain, and suffering that so many people of color in this country have been going through for so many years. It is important to do something to try to instill change.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in accounting, a profession where African Americans have been under-represented in the past?
Garry: I was in high school and I took an accounting bookkeeping class as an elective. I did very well in the class and my teacher encouraged me to research the profession, as there were personal and professional perks to being an accountant.
Alice: I knew from a very young age, as early as my teenage years. I liked working with numbers, trying to get things to balance and figure out problems. In Grenada, accounting did not offer a lot of opportunity since there were a small number of firms/jobs available. My closest road was getting into banking, and that’s where I began before I moved to the United States and pursued an education, and later a career, in the accounting field.
Sam: It was right as I was getting ready to graduate from high school that I knew I wanted to pursue a career in accounting. I recall taking my first accounting class and thinking to myself, “There is nothing quite like this. I love it!” The idea of debits and credits, and that everything needing to balance at the end – it all clicked.
Is there a specific leader from history that inspires you?
Garry: I wouldn’t say one specific person, as there are so many. As a child I was really into Jackie Robinson, but as I got older and learned more about other leaders, the list grew. George Washington Carver, Thurgood Marshall, to name a few. So many people that brought so many different things to the table. People that fought for civil rights, those who became the first black individual in their field, etc. I look up to those who saw the rights of their neighbors being infringed upon, and how unfair the system was towards them. They didn’t sit still and worked to build a better future for everyone.
Sam: Nelson Mandela is a notable leader who inspires me. He fought for what he believed in and even went to jail for it. Nelson Mandela was a man of conviction who was prepared to lose his life for what he believed in. He embodied the importance of standing in our light and being all that we are meant and called to be. He inspired many to step into the greatness of who they are, thereby encouraging others to do the same. He was the epitome of a “gentle giant” and his legacy of peace and light is as meaningful now as ever before.
Alice: There are several leaders that I admire: Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Thurgood Marshall, John Lewis, Elijah Cummings and, of course, Barack Obama, among others. None being more important than the others, as they all played their roles in their space and worked to build a better path for those who came after them. The person I admire the most would be Martin Luther King Jr. I admire him for his Christianity, his peaceful activism and the way he would use words to transcend race and other socio-economic issues that were prevalent in his time. He just had a passion to advance civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. He was one-of-a-kind, and even today, a lot of his speeches are relevant to what is happening in our world. He was a mover and a shaker and the impact he made on society is still reverberating as we speak.
Thank you, Sam, Alice and Garry for taking the time to share your perspectives during Black History Month and giving us all more to reflect on as we recognize the contributions of Black Americans and the value diversity brings to our workplace and our community all through the year.