Please describe your current and/or previous roles that relate to your work for justice and equality?
As a co-founder of Charm City Buyers, my husband Khalil (Lehigh ’10) and I have spent our years since college redeveloping communities through real estate. Understanding that quality housing is one of the cornerstones of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we set out to turn houses in historically disinvested neighborhoods into homes. This journey started a few months after graduating college in Hartford, Conn., and then continued once we relocated a short time after to Baltimore (Khalil’s hometown).
Since 2012, we have continued to redevelop Baltimore through the years by providing both quality rental properties as well as opportunities to build homeownership in the city. That journey brought us to holding over 20 rental units and leading development on several blocks throughout Baltimore.
After leaving my full-time job as director of operations at a software startup in Baltimore at 27 to manage and grow our portfolio fulltime, I found myself not ready to “retire” quite yet. We learned a lot through our journey (most things the hard way) and wanted to make sure we were leveraging those lessons to chart a path for more people to find success in real estate in Baltimore. With 2 main focuses – building wealth in the Black community and building Baltimore, we developed a program to do exactly that. Through our “NEXTGen Accelerator” we are able to provide the resource, guidance and tools to those who aim to not only add additional sources of income to their own portfolio but invest in the betterment of Baltimore City. “Community First Development” has become the tagline that focuses our intentions on adding VALUE in the communities in which we invest rather than putting “value” in our pockets. This approach allows us to not only develop communities but mitigate the negative impacts of gentrification which has driven displacement in historically Black communities for decades.
What about your work brings you the most joy or gives you the most pride?
Through our NEXTGen Accelerator, we’re able to support folks not only in reaching their goals but exceed them. It’s a wonderful feeling to know we had a hand in not only making huge shifts for people individually but truly a generational impact with the family. Of course, that also means that our city was able to turn another one, two or ten vacant houses into quality homes.
It’s also a heck of a lot of fun to look back at before/after pictures of our own projects. Taking a vacant shell with a front wall and a tree growing up the middle to a beautiful, historic home for a first time home buyer is a wonderful experience… once you’re finished!
What is your most meaningful moment or significant accomplishment as it relates to your work for justice and equality?
Driving down a block of properties and seeing new homeowners enjoying the fruits of our labor is a wonderful feeling. The opportunity to transform communities is very powerful.
What is the greatest hurdle you’ve had to overcome?
We didn’t have formal training or mentors or a community of people who were not only investing in real estate but had a passion for truly adding value back to those same communities. As a result, our path is full of failures as well of success. I’m sure we could go toe-to-toe with others in real estate about the wild experiences we’ve had along the way. So we’ve worked hard to create the community and be the mentors that we never had!
How do you empower those around you?
I’ve found empowering others is simply support and encouragement. When I share information on social media about redlining and other practices that have left Baltimore in the shape it’s in, people feel encouraged and empowered to be a part of the solution to change. I get a rush of emotions when this happens because I’m sparking the conversation that will have lasting impacts for a community.
What short phrase would you offer others to inspire them to have hope and/or to take action?
“Only two things can get you through this: that’s patience and persistence.” —Jay-Z
How has this summer’s civil unrest and calls for equity impacted you?
We’ve had an increase in inquiries to work with us. We’ve seen this unrest happen six years ago with Freddie Gray here in Baltimore so this isn’t new to us. We’re aware. We get it. If anything, it put a fire in my belly to find better ways to serve Baltimore and its communities. Personally, I’m tired. I’m the word beyond tired that none of us can actually explain. It’s deeper than exhaustion. It’s pain, anger, rage, frustration, insignificant, weary, and some more.
How has your perspective changed since the time you were a Lafayette student?
I was very involved during my time at Lafayette. Always juggling and trying to do my part in making sure the experiences of those who would inevitably come after my tenure could be better. At its core, I guess I held on to that passion and turned it into a lifestyle.