Nita Farrow, performance auditor with Milwaukee Public Schools, is a poster child for achieving educational goals with hard work and determination. She also knows not to ever let others define or dictate what you can’t do. Nita willingly admits that when in high school, she was not an “A” student, but she studied and worked hard to be what she terms a “B-C” student.
“When I was in the eighth grade, my teacher told me I would never get into Rufus King High School—she said I wasn’t smart enough and my grades weren’t good enough. And, I attended Harambee Community School, a small, community- based, private school. So going from there to Rufus King was a cultural shock. It was a huge high school and I struggled socially, trying to fit in.
“Even though things were not easy for me, I got into Rufus King and during my sophomore year, I started trying to figure out my career goals,” she said.
Nita recalls that she started taking business classes when she became a junior and met Mrs. Clara Lovell who was an accounting teacher.
“She took us on field trips to places like Miller- Coors (formerly Miller Brewing Company), and I saw all these African American women working in the accounting department. I was impressed with that so I studied hard, attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and majored in accounting,” she said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting, Nita wanted to become a certified public accountant (CPA) and remain in Tennessee. Two things changed her mind. First, the requirements for becoming a CPA in Tennessee were more stringent; they required potential CPA candidates to have 150 credit hours, which is equivalent to a master’s degree. Earning a CPA in Wisconsin only requires 120 credit hours. Secondly, she was encouraged by her grandmother to come home.
Fresh out of college, Nita shares that she struggled to find a job. At first she worked in the M&I Bank’s (now BMO Harris Bank) Trust department through a temporary agency as an account representative; then she was hired on full-time with Robert W. Baird & Co.
“I was only making $7.70 an hour with an accounting degree. I was really at a low point in my life. I saw a job opportunity with Coleman and Williams, Ltd.—a minority accounting firm— and was hired there.
“Working at Coleman and Williams was another cultural shock because everyone there was of African descent—not African American. Mr. Coleman is from the Ivory Coast and his plan was to recruit other Africans, give them accounting experience, then have them return to their native country. I was the only Black woman at his firm,” she said.
Nita worked at Coleman and Williams for two years before she was put on the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) account. While working on an audit at MPS, she was recruited by them and she’s been there since 1997.
“Unfortunately, I’ve not really had any mentors who work in accounting, but in 2017 I joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority (DST). Many of them are educators, so while I still have no accounting mentors, I do have encouragement and support from my sorors—especially from people like Janie Hatton, who continues to encourage me, even though she’s now retired from MPS,” she said.
While working full-time, Nita has earned two master’s degrees—in business administration and public administration. She has also received the School Business Administration license from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Since 2014, she has been an adjunct lecturer, teaching accounting at Concordia University, and she serves as a trustee with her church.
“I try to mentor some of my students—one is actually my intern. I also recently started a bookkeeping and tax business on the side. While I’m busy, whenever I speak to young people I tell them not to let the fact that they may not be “A” students stop them from pursuing their dreams. Many minority students struggle with numbers and math—especially since they don’t teach traditional math in school. Math is a numbers game, but it’s more analytical than you think; you have to think outside the box.
“My career has been challenging, but I feel I’ve overcome obstacles by working hard in a male-dominated field. I’m at a point now where I’ve found my ‘happy’ and I’m in a good place,” she said.