She broke barriers for Black women on Wall Street. Now she gives back

Martina Edwards was one of the first Black women brokers at the New York Stock Exchange
Portrait of Martina Edwards, Chief of Strategic Partnerships at Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin /



Portrait of Martina Edwards, Chief of Strategic Partnerships at Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Atlanta. (Hyosub Shin /

Atlanta is full of living legends, and Martina Edwards is one of them.

She spent the summer after her junior year of college interning at Merrill Lynch, where she fell in love with the energy of the stock market. After graduating in 2001, she started working full time for the firm as a trading assistant.

In 2004, she became the first Black female broker for Merrill Lynch on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, according to a 2004 internal report by the brokerage, and one of the few Black women ever in that position for any investment firm. Her promotion caused some of her colleagues to ask her how she got there.

“I interviewed,” she would respond. “How did you get here?”

She now serves as the chief of strategic partnerships for Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, a Georgia-based community development financial institution that helps women, minorities and entrepreneurs from low-income communities get funding, coaching and connections to grow their businesses. She is also on the advisory board for local venture capital firm Zane Venture Fund.

Edwards spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about her career journey and the legacy she hopes to leave behind. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Martina Edwards (right), Chief of Strategic Partnerships at Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs (ACE), chats with Jennifer Barbosa, Founder and CEO of Queen Supplier, at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Atlanta.  (Hyosub Shin /


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Q: Let’s start from the beginning of your journey. How did you get from rural Alabama to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange?

A: I was born in rural Alabama; I spent the first nine years of my life living there. The South is where I learned all of my values, about life and just family and community.

After the first nine years of my life in rural Alabama, I moved to Montgomery, Alabama, and that’s where I spent my formative years, and then I went on to Tuskegee University for college.

I majored in finance and I had the opportunity to apply to this program that helped to put high-achieving diverse talent at Wall Street firms. And that’s important because at that point in time, late 90s, early 2000s, a lot of big investment banks were just not coming that far South. ... Sponsors for Educational Opportunity is what got my foot in the door to Wall Street.

I remember Maria Bartiromo, who was the reporter for CNBC at the time, took me out on the floor to show me where she was reporting from and I was just in heaven. I thought, “This is where I want to go. This is the speed of the work that I want to do.”

Q: When you first started at the New York Stock Exchange, your first week on the floor was the week of 9/11. What was that like?

A: It was a devastating moment. My first year I lived in Jersey City, I took the PATH train to New York City and my stop was World Trade Center.

So I’d been in the trade center that morning and there’s an airwalk connecting it to the World Financial Center. Merrill Lynch was in the World Financial Center and I went there for our normal trading meeting with the traders who you’re gonna be talking to from the Exchange, and I was basically headed back out to report to the Exchange after those meetings.

There was a woman who just told me not to go in that direction as I was getting ready to walk back through the airwalk to get to the World Trade Center, and, you know, I just turned on my heels.

As I got about four or five blocks away, I could see a crowd in the street, more people were coming out. There were buildings that had windows that were blown out of them, and I knew that something was off, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

When I knew there was no getting to the Exchange was when I heard the roar of jet engines and saw the white underbelly of a teetering plane just above my head and it felt so close. It happened simultaneously, like I heard it, saw it and I dropped to the ground.

And I dropped and turned, and it was exploding on the (South Tower of the) World Trade Center behind me. You just heard shrieks and shrills of people screaming in panic of not knowing what’s happening. My first insight to what was going on was a homeless man had a basket with all of his belongings and he had a little broken, busted radio. Everyone started crowding around him ... and the first thing that I remembered hearing is that the United States is under attack.

Post that time period was difficult, because when I did report back to the Exchange — which was about a week later — for the next year ... what I remember was having to harden my shell.

The NYSE became my place of solace.

Q: How did you realize it was time to leave the New York Stock Exchange?

A: I started to say, okay, this has been a great learning ground, my first foray into how capital flows. But I wanted to understand the other side of the picture in terms of how were these deals coming to market, and so I thought the best next step for me would be business school, especially if I wanted to shift and do something different.

Q: Then you go to business school, you graduate and now it’s 2008 and it’s the financial crisis. It seems like you’ve often had pivotal moments of your career around times of crisis. So, what advice would you give to others on how to manage and move forward in crisis?

A: I joke and say you can’t time the market. ... My mother has this quote that she says to me sometimes and that still to this day as an adult, she says, “Remember who you are and whose you are.” And to remember to straighten your crown and represent.

I say that life can blow you brisk or gentle breezes. When I grew up, we had limited resources. Like we moved from a two-bedroom trailer to a brick and mortar house and I felt like we were like the Jeffersons, moving on up. But that was even short lived because my parents got divorced and we experienced financial hardships. All of these elements of my life have just taught me that you’re going to have some ebbs, you’re going to have some flows, but you’re gonna get through it.

Q: You’ve made history very young and have continued to grow and help people. When you think of your legacy, what mark do you hope you have left?

A: I want my legacy to be one that will be remembered for thinking beyond myself and outside of myself.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify Martina Edwards was the first African American woman to serve as a broker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for Merrill Lynch.

Martina Edwards

Age: 44

Education: Bachelor of science in finance from Tuskegee University, masters of business administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Family: Married with two sons, ages 9 and 10.

Resides: Smyrna

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