February is Black History Month. While The Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce celebrates all our members throughout the year, this month we are shinning a spotlight on our members within the African American community. Join us all month long for our 2nd annual spotlight series. This special feature helps our communities learn a little more about some of their business leaders who work so hard to make it a community to be proud of.
Today, we would like you to get to know Aaron Slaughter, CPA of WithumSmith+Brown, CP.
Aaron Slaughter is a Senior Manager for WithumSmith+Brown, PC. Practicing out of their Washington, D.C. office, he specializes in accounting and auditing of multiemployer benefit plans and labor organizations. With over ten years of experience in public accounting, Mr. Slaughter has assisted in a plethora of audits, agreed-upon procedure engagements, and special projects. His expertise includes work for local and national employee benefit plans, health and welfare plans, pension funds and labor organizations, small business organizations, and not-for-profit entities. In addition to his accounting and attestation experience, he also assists in the recruiting efforts of his firm. Mr. Slaughter is a certified public accountant (CPA) in the state of Maryland, a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), a member of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) and serves as Membership Co-Chair of the chamber’s ‘NextExecs’ committee. He’s a 2021 “40 Under 40 Black CPA” award recipient. Lastly, he is also a member of the McDaniel College Board of Trustees, where he earned dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Accounting and Economics.
We asked Aaron three important questions. Read his responses below.
Q1. What are some challenges you faced early on that helped prepare you for the role you are in today and how did you overcome them?
I was a collegiate athlete with aspirations of playing football professionally. This was not a dream but a career path until one day, one game, one play changed the trajectory of my life. I suffered a devastating knee injury that left me in a hospital bed facing a lengthy and painful recovery after surgery. The loss of my hopes of a career in football left me in a state of depression. I had no plan B for my life, and I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me. I had lost the will to go to class or complete my studies. In fact, there were some days I was not able to leave my apartment. This went on for weeks until I decided that my story had not ended. I decided the pain would not keep me from doing the necessary physical therapy. I decided I would resume and complete all my coursework.
It was through this life challenge that I found out the most about myself. I learned the true meaning of mental fortitude. The pain was indescribable, and I had more assignments to make up than I could count. I wanted to give up at every step along the way, but that was not an option. Battling back from that kind of injury showed me that anything was possible with the proper attitude, perseverance, and God in my corner. I’d later return for another season, be named All-Conference, and graduate with honors. At the time, I did not know that picking myself up after this injury would be the blueprint for how to handle all of life’s adversities.
The CPA exam was no ‘knee injury’, but it was the next challenge that pushed me to my limits. On those days when motivation was nonexistent and I didn't feel like studying, I thought about lying on my bedroom floor in pure agony after my surgery. I knew if I was able to bounce back from that, I could pass these four exams. The lessons learned from dealing with reconstructive knee surgery left a lasting impression on my life and continue to carry me through tax seasons, client deadlines, and everything else that life has thrown my way.
Q2. Who/What is your biggest inspiration in both your personal and professional life?
When I was in the sixth grade, I met a young man named Van Brooks. He would turn out to be not only one of my best friends, but also one of the biggest inspirations for me both personally and professionally. We bonded quickly. At first because we were the only 2 Black kids in the entire 6th grade class at our all-boys prep school. However, we soon realized our greatest bond was our love of sports. Over the next five years, we would spend a great deal of time together in the classroom and on the field as teammates. On a fall afternoon in our junior year, Van suffered a life-threatening injury during a football game. He was airlifted to the Shock Trauma unit for immediate and urgent medical treatment. He was told he would likely never walk again. Van credits his dad with telling him that a man is not defeated when he loses; he is defeated when he gives up. Powerful words that we live by. To this day, Van has never given up. He fights on and his commitment to defying the odds and walking again remains impressive.
Van’s Influence extends far beyond his circle of friends. He went on to graduate from high school and college. He founded a nonprofit organization (S.A.F.E.) which is focused on helping youths in the city of Baltimore. He’s a hometown hero, and I’m honored to call him friend and brother.
Q3. What is your biggest piece of advice to businesses struggling with diversity and inclusivity in the workplace?
The easy answer to this question is that there are no easy answers. Recruiting, hiring, training, and retaining qualified team members is hard. It takes a consistent effort from the top down. It requires an intentional and conscious commitment to venture into the places that hold the wealth of diverse candidates you need. Do you recruit at HBCU job fairs? Do you seek out sponsorships and advertising opportunities at Black Greek festivals and events? Beyond Black History month, do you have a presence in the under-represented and, most likely, under supported communities that have the potential to provide employees and customers to grow your business?
It takes an honest assessment about where the company currently is and the likelihood that what you have been doing hasn’t been working. You’re not going to have all the answers. You won’t figure it out overnight, but that’s OK because the important thing is that you start.
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