When asked about African American leaders who have inspired me, it would be easy to mention a well-known historical figure. But when I think about who helped make me who I am today, I think mostly of two women—my Aunt Brenda and a former co-worker named Patricia Feaster. These two women helped me set realistic expectations about wanting a career in banking and overcome the challenges of trying to do so in the 1980s.

I knew very few successful African American career professionals while growing up. Most in my community were simply trying to find jobs that would keep food on the table and the lights on at home. That daily struggle kept so many people from being mentors or real examples for the rest of us who wanted professional business careers.

My Aunt Brenda was an exception. She was a college graduate and knew the benefits of higher education. She earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in teaching. Her best advice was to study hard, get to college and then “pay as you go” to avoid student loans that would likely haunt me for many years after I graduated.

Following her advice, I worked full-time and went to school in the evenings, using my salary to pay for my classes while I lived at home. Although Aunt Brenda never owned her own business, she was always sure to impart her confident stance that we could do so if we really wanted to, or we could work for an established company and treat it as we would our own business. Her advice rewards me to this day.

Another exceptional example comes from my first days in banking. I was a teller in New York City. At the time, the only African American professional on the banking floor, Patricia Feaster, was a stern woman who pulled no punches when dispensing advice. While a bit intimidating, her goal was to inspire any teller who wanted to pursue a career in banking. Her advice always came back to really learning the business. If Pat didn’t think you were applying yourself, she would issue you a pointed stare, followed with an instructing comment. I always admired that about her, and it pushed me to grow my career in banking. It was tough to advance in banking as an African American in the 1980s, but the advice and recommendations of my Aunt Brenda and the career-pathing directives of Pat Feaster are a big reason for my success. Often, our biggest influencers are there with us every day, guiding us, even though we may not immediately recognize their assistance or importance. My success in banking can be attributed to the occasional great advice I’ve received, as well as my own tenacity.

Equally part of my positive journey in banking has been the ability to collaborate with fellow associates at all levels in my role, especially at UMB Bank. I can have the ear of any member of our senior management team whenever I need it, whether to share an idea or strategize about our regional or national presence. I also appreciate the experience of working with people from diverse backgrounds who see their fellow associates as one family. I feel proud that I can be myself at UMB.

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