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16 MAR 2021

The black family: Identity, representation and diversity

In celebration of Black History Month in the U.S, which this year focused on The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity, Alvah Beander MRICS hosted a series of fireside chats with African American leaders in real estate and construction.

She spent time with Ernie Jarvis, a renowned real-estate leader whose family have made an impact on communities for generations, and Tiffany Hosey the grand-daughter of entrepreneurial real-estators and President of Built Data Analytics Inc.

Identity

Building upon what has gone before you

Discussing what influenced them, it was clear strong family backgrounds provided a sense of possibility. Having role-models that succeeded despite adversity instilled a sense of duty to continue the legacy.

“We had a funeral home for four generations on my paternal side” said Ernie, “my great-great-great-grandfather was born a slave in 1853, Richmond, and became a Minister. We call it vertical integration now but from his ministry he started a funeral home and a flowers store and everything else”

The influence of previous generations left an imprint on Tiffany too. Her grandmother finished school with a 6th grade education. Despite this, she accumulated 28 properties in her lifetime, providing the family with a model of success.
Additionally, Tiffany’s maternal grandfather is William Summers. Initially focused on gutting homes, refurbishing them, and renting them out, he went on to build The Summers Hotel in Jackson, Mississippi. It was one of only two hotels where African-Americans could stay at the time.

“In that hotel, he was one of the people responsible for birthing the first black owned bank in Mississippi” Tiffany shared, aware of the impact her grandfather’s activities had on others, “he always used to tell us, diversify your assets”.

Representation, Identity and Diversity: Tiffany Hosey

Representation

Why aren’t we seeing black professionals in the sector?

Representation matters. Alvah asked why we aren’t seeing more black professionals within the real-estate industries - why are we still talking about black people being pioneers? Even though Ernie and Tiffany come from established families, they still found themselves as forerunners.

“I was one of the only people of colour to run a major Key-West city for one of the big companies” said Ernie of his early career, “today across the entire country of The States, there isn’t one African-American who has P & L responsibility for a major US city at one of the large companies.”

Tiffany’s thoughts about representation left much to think about regarding the future.

“There are so many talented people with great ideas on how to improve the build process, on how to save money, on how to protect owner’s interests” she observed, pointing out that there are black people within the industry with the skills and knowledge sought but there is an issue with ensuring opportunity reaches them.

Representation, Identity and Diversity: Ernie Jarvis

Diversity

What can we do to support diversity within the sector?

Asked how we support diversity within the sector, practical solutions were the focus. Proactive, Ernie revealed that after the Black Lives Matters protests last year, he had crafted a template plan to increase diversity and inclusion within the real-estate industry and sent it to every publicly traded CEO and their executive team.

“There’s got to be an understanding that people of colour don’t necessarily have the social networks to find out about this industry, or these industries” he asserted, “especially at the mid-levels and senior levels where it is a who do you know, who can help you get in, industry.”

Tiffany focused on how to promote a career path for the next generation. Speaking of The Construction Industry Advisory Board of Virginia Tech she said, “they have a Diversity and Inclusion section of that board and we are actually working on that issue right now. We’re trying to figure out how we create a pipeline of African-Americans in the build industry,” with attention being given to what the perception of the industry is to potential young black professionals and how this can be addressed.

It is apparent that the construction industry has a lot of talented black individuals who are not as visible as they ought to be. People that are there but not being seen. Tiffany, Alvah and Ernie have the knowledge, network and capabilities to help if people reach out them, all able to share the work of other black professionals and support in making connections.