When financial consultants Meltrice Sharp and LaRese Purnell kept crossing paths after launching parallel firms, they knew they had to talk. It only took one business dinner for the pair to discover they had more than potential clients in common.
“Our visions were the same: we wanted to change the financial trajectory of our community,” said Sharp. “In our previous roles, we’d worked with business owners and entrepreneurs, particularly minority owners and entrepreneurs, and often we saw what was missing was a good financial framework. We have the skill set to provide that and we’re passionate about it.”
So Purnell and Sharp combined their expertise and drive to create CLE Consulting Firm, which provides accounting, bookkeeping, tax services, business consulting and more to families and small businesses. What they discovered in launching their own business was that their mission alignment transcended their professional goals for the firm.
“We agreed on three guiding principles in order to be partners,” said Purnell. “First, we decided we wouldn’t do business together unless we wanted to make money because you can’t be a blessing without resources. The second thing we wanted to do was build future leaders and the third was give back. Those three things aligned, and we knew it was right for us to come together as partners.”
Six years after pooling their financial expertise and philanthropic drive, Sharp and Purnell have built a business that has impacted thousands in their Northeast Ohio community. Inspired to make sure their giving leaves a lasting legacy, the business partners established a donor advised fund at the Cleveland Foundation in January 2022 to help advance their vision for a more financially empowered Greater Cleveland.
A true calling
Both Purnell and Sharp were inspired to give back from a young age. “When I was able, even as a little kid, I’d give a little bit of my allowance back to the church,” Sharp said. “That was something that was just ingrained in me.” She also credits humble beginnings and being on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity with fueling her philanthropy. “Knowing how much of an impact that made on my family, it was always something I dreamed as a kid of doing—giving back to other people. It’s a blessing to be a blessing.”
Purnell says his mother inspired him to think of others from a young age. “I didn’t always know where our next meal was coming from, but my mom always embedded in us the importance of giving back to others and how we want to make sure we share what we do have. My mother and my pastor would always tell me to do what makes you feel alive. When I’m giving, it’s a true calling. I get excited about making the change in the trajectory of someone’s life.”
Their professional and philanthropic missions are closely linked as they aim to help close the wealth gap in their communities.
“It saddens me to see the lack of ownership in the community where I grew up and where my mother still lives,” said Sharp. “I was able to see owners who looked like me when I was growing up: the corner stores, the restaurants were owned by us, and we’re seeing a decrease in that.”
Ownership is key to creating and keeping wealth in communities, said Purnell.
“The wealth gap in our community is alarming, and it’s a serious conversation for all of us,” he said. “If you look at the Black community in Cleveland, how many businesses are third generation? It’s a very small number. Creating and securing ownership for families can lift up entire communities.”
Supporting Black businesses and professionals
Purnell also helps shine a spotlight on Northeast Ohio’s Black-owned businesses through the Real Black Friday, an initiative he launched in 2015 to raise awareness and increase exposure for Greater Cleveland’s Black entrepreneurs. In 2022, the Real Black Friday Expo showcased more than 100 small businesses during NBA All-Star Weekend in downtown Cleveland.
“The Real Black Friday was created to increase access to Black-owned businesses and collaborative opportunities for us to stand together and create impact collectively,” he said. “It’s about creating a legacy and securing ownership for families. These Black-owned businesses are keeping their communities alive.”
Sharp helps support Black professionals through her work as president of the Black Professionals Association Charitable Foundation, which provides resources to Black professionals throughout their career paths, from scholarships for college students to networking and professional development for those deeper in their careers and looking to grow. The organization also highlights the work of the rich pool of talented Black leaders in Northeast Ohio, she said.
Sharp also helms Women Creating Wealth & Impact (WCWI), an organization dedicated to empowering women through financial literacy. WCWI provides a safe platform to inspire, empower and educate women to help them build their financial competencies and confidently take ownership of their financial futures.
Both Sharp and Purnell are equally committed to helping add to that robust pipeline of Black business talent.
“In terms of future leaders, only 1% of CPAs are African American,” said Sharp. “It’s critical that you have representation in every industry.” Both serve as mentors and teachers to the next generation of financial professionals. Sharp teaches accounting as an adjunct professor at Cuyahoga Community College and Purnell travels nationally to teach financial literacy at colleges, high schools, conventions and seminars.
Seeing people who look like them succeeding in the profession can send a powerful message to young people, said Sharp. “It tells them, if she can do it, if he can do it, and they look like me, then I can do it, too.”
The three pillars behind Purnell and Sharp’s partnership—success in business, supporting the next generations of leaders, and giving back—all revolve around financial literacy. It’s the expertise they share with their clients. It’s the knowledge they impart to the young people they mentor. And it’s central to advancing their philanthropic vision into the community they love.
“When people are worrying about their bills, they’re wondering how they can even think about someone else,” said Purnell. “The more we can educate people financially, they more they can create margins in their lives to give back.”
Interested in establishing a donor advised fund for your business or family? Contact our Advancement team at 877.554.5054 to start a conversation about how to make your greatest charitable impact.