FA Center: ‘I had to keep my composure because I didn’t want to derail my success.’ This financial adviser overcame the odds against her.

United States

Lanta Evans-Motte was forced to grow up quickly. Her mother died when Evans-Motte was still in grade school. Two years later, her father suffered a massive stroke. “We didn’t know if he’d live,” said Evans-Motte, now a financial adviser in Calverton, Md. “It was touch-and-go for awhile.”

Evans-Motte was the youngest of nine children. In her early teens, Evans-Motte and her sister were the only children still at home. Her family farmed roughly 100 acres in a poor region of northern Florida. Corn and tobacco were their cash crops. The two sisters became their father’s caregivers, while older siblings helped financially and visited periodically to keep the farm — the family’s main source of income — running. Evans-Motte says they “would have lost the family farm” if not for the siblings’ financial support.

Her parents believed deeply in the value of an education and encouraged their children to work hard in school. Evans-Motte was a diligent student and earned strong grades. The graduation rate at her high school was roughly 50%, she says. She fought the odds and graduated as high school valedictorian while still processing the loss of her mother, her father’s stroke and the accompanying emotional and financial struggles.

“At the time, there was no mental health counseling available for young people like me,” she said. “Today, I encourage people to seek out resources to help cope with trauma. But I didn’t consider myself deprived. It’s so easy to look at people around you who are so much worse off and dismiss what you’re going through.”

A chance encounter gave Evans-Motte a way forward. The University of Maryland’s director of financial aid happened to be visiting his family in northern Florida. Flipping through the local newspaper, he scanned a list of high school valedictorians and spotted Evans-Motte’s name. He contacted her and wound up offering her a full academic scholarship to the university. Recalling her good fortune, Evans-Motte refers to it gratefully as “divine intervention.” 

During her college years in Maryland, Evans-Motte worked part-time to pay for personal expenses and help her father with bills. She bought her winter coat at a thrift store. Her siblings chipped in to pay her airfare for her periodic return trips to Florida.

Evans-Motte earned a B.S. in accounting and an M.B.A. in finance and information systems from the University of Maryland. After completing her M.B.A., Evans-Motte entered the corporate world. As a Black woman, Evans-Motte faced some uncomfortable workplace situations, such as the time when she injured her foot playing basketball and showed up at the office with her foot bandaged. A colleague remarked, “How’d you hurt your foot? Jumping out of a tree?”

A few years later, she was a finance manager at a large corporation. When someone asked her about her background and education, she reeled off all her degrees. “Wow, you really are well-suited for your position,” the person replied with a hint of surprise.

“Both times, I swallowed really hard,” Evans-Motte recalled. “I had to keep my composure because I didn’t want to derail my success.”

After more than a decade working for large corporations, Evans-Motte launched her career as a financial adviser. Now in her 50s, she has run her financial planning practice for 20 years.

Evans-Motte often urges clients to plan for the worst. Some of them are in denial, at least at first, but she gently presses them to consider insurance products and other long-term care services they might need.

Given her experience growing up, Evans-Motte has a heightened awareness of the perils of losing a parent — and losing a parent’s income due to death or disability. “When I was in my 30s, I got long-term-care insurance,” she said. “I recognized the need. I was motivated from the unrecognized trauma of what I went through with my parents.”