Feb. 26, 2021 by TREC Staff

TREC Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee Reflects on Black History Month

Throughout February, we have been reflecting on the lives and legacies of the individuals who have made a profound impact on Black history in America. While The Real Estate Council is proud to partner with several local organizations that serve Dallas’ Black communities, and support growing diversity efforts within the commercial real estate industry and our membership, we understand that considerable work still lies ahead to ensure an equitable city, nation, and world for all.

We asked members of our Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee to share with us what makes Black History Month special for them, the Black figures that inspire them most, and how we can continue to highlight and celebrate Black history throughout the year.

Here is what they told us:

Alex John Jr., HKS Architects
TREC Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee Chair
For me, this is a time for us to spend specific time educating myself on the contribution Black people have made in the making of America. Growing up, this was not something that I heard much about, as VERY little is taught in our schools of the intellectual investment and accomplishments made by black people. It is almost as though our contribution has been muted. Maybe a footnote at best.

There is a great series on PBS that I’ve only been able to see a piece of called “African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross.” It is a great watch for all interested.

My family and I are celebrating Black History Month in two ways: We are spending our money at black owned businesses to funnel valuable sales to the black community. We are watching documentaries as a family multiple times per week on aspects of black history we know nothing about in an effort to better understand our history. We then spend time discussing our thoughts.

This year I was fortunate to be a part of a BHM presentation committee where we educated my firm on historic and systemic issue Black people of have experienced with the healthcare system resulting a perversive distrust of the medical community. Facts and statistics were presented that identify where that mistrust comes from and highlights areas where the imbalance is still present today.

Darren James, KAI Enterprises
For the longest time, the only Black History taught in schools was curated around slavery or a few transcendent icons. What was lost was the true contribution to the American social and commercial fabric. It was glossed over, ignored, or downplayed. Black Americans are not homogenous, and our reflective impacts are as varied and diverse as every other citizen’s, but those accomplishments, stories and contributions are not taught or celebrated in the mainstream American education system. Everyone can name Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but how many know that Dr. Charles Drew and his pioneering research on blood transfusions and plasma made it possible for many American soldiers to return home after sustaining battle injuries? Or the Tuskegee Airmen and their amazing record of escorting bombers during World War II? Or, closer to my profession, William Sidney Pittman, widely regarded as the first Black architect in Texas? As a history buff, I have always sought to learn more of where we all come from and, just as importantly, Black contributions and their importance in today’s society. Last year, I launched a Black Architect Series on my social media to highlight Black architects from the founding of America through the years and their influence on the fabric of our built environment. KAI is continuing the series this year to illustrate the robust portfolio from Black architects across this country.

Cathy Janke, Capital One: I recommend reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Her cancer cells changed the world of medicine without her knowledge. This book provides a startling look at the cavalier view toward Black lives and it made an impression on me.

My company, Capital One, created an Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging. We have monthly coffee chats, speaker series, panel discussions, and webinars to share perspectives. To celebrate Black History Month, the Office of DIB sent all of us the book Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanual Acho.

I believe the best way to change the face of commercial real estate is to engage with high school students. Development competitions, career guidance, and showcasing commercial properties with a panel of subject matter experts are just a few ways to pique their interest.

Bryce Jackson, Thirty-Four Commercial: Black History Month is important because it gives everyone, even those who otherwise would not be concerned with Black history, an opportunity to take some time to acknowledge and/or learn about the history of a people whose history has all too often been left out of the history books. While the month of February is important for the reasons previously mentioned, we would be remiss if we didn’t celebrate the contribution Black people have made to America as we know it, every month of the year.

It’s easy to call on one of the icons of the past like Dr. Martin Luther King or Muhammad Ali or Rosa Parks or even John Lewis, but that would be missing the point. They lived their lives in such a way that we might be able to stand on their shoulders and be “giants” in our day, so of course I continue to be inspired by the lives they lived, but I’m also inspired by our modern day giants such as Donahue Peebles, Shawn Carter, Barack Obama, Rod Washington – the list goes on. These are everyday people who have been able to live out their dreams and push the needle further because of the giants who went before them, and in their wake they’re creating room for people like me to do the same.

Darcy Barnes, Bank of America: I attended a virtual tour and discussion of the special exhibition, The Fight for Civil Rights in the South, led by Chief Education Officer Dr. Sara Abosch Jacobson at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. The exhibit combines two prestigious photography exhibitions covering the African American struggle for civil rights and social equality in the 1960s – Selma to Montgomery. Photographs by Spider Martin and Courage Under Fire: The Burning of the Freedom Riders Bus.

Bill Cawley, Cawley Partners: Black History Month is important because it brings the issues related to the Black community front and center. It causes us to be more aware as well as provides information we need to be better suited to support the Black community.

There are three individuals that have inspired me: Martin Luther King, for all that he did to bring the Black community’s issues front and center at a time when most were not interested; Jackie Robinson and what he went through to open opportunities for the black athletes is something not many could endure; and John Lewis, who was committed to bringing Black issues to the forefront and suffered personally and professionally.

I am not a big book reader, but I would recommend the movie “42,” about Jackie Robinson’s life story. It provides a view of all the hardships he went through. What a blessing that he was a generational athlete. It allowed him the platform to create change.

Our family has been very focused on educating ourselves as to the issues related to being a Black person in today’s world. Within the last year, with all the protests going on across the US, it caused us to focus on the issues and more importantly, find ways as a family and for our company to get involved. As a white businessman, I am looking for ways to be involved, to understand and find ways to make some type of a difference. The journey has been one of absorbing information as well as finding organizations to support, but more importantly, picking a path to finding ways for us to get plugged in. I think it’s better to do than simply support.

The most impactful information for me was last year as TREC chair, with all the discord in our country and TREC’s desire to be involved in the solution and take a stand for inclusion for the Black community in the real estate industry. As a company, we have always focused on helping and or hiring minorities, and as we move forward, we plan to continue that practice with even greater focus.

Yelda Tuz, Bank of America Merrill Lynch: Black History Month offers an opportunity to celebrate the richness and diversity of the Black and African American community. Reflecting on the historical events that shaped the community, as well as how we can collectively continue to drive progress. It’s an opportunity to further collaborate and engage and drive awareness and attention.

I am proud to be part of TREC’s DEI committee and its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion through which we’re driving throughout the year with intentional integration and amplification at key moments like this one.

Anyone/everyone who is taking the initiative working through different ways to support and make a conscious effort to make a change. People supporting courageous conversations, making conscious effort where they are spending/investing to help create opportunity for people and communities of color.

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