Despite renewed commitment across the city to racial diversity and equity in commercial real estate, efforts to improve representation have been piecemeal. The newly formed Philadelphia chapter of trade group African American Real Estate Professionals is looking to change that.
Courtesy of Derrick Dean
Brian Edmonds and Kenn Penn, co-founders and inaugural co-presidents of the Philadelphia chapter of African American Real Estate Professionals, speak at its first meeting in May 2022.
AAREP’s Philly chapter, its eighth in the U.S., held its first meeting in May, with the 15-member board convening to launch what it hopes to be a fast-growing organization that consolidates and advances Black representation in the commercial real estate industry. Even industry-leading efforts from the city of Philadelphia and the Navy Yard development team of Ensemble/Mosaic are forced to start by finding professionals and businesses to fill out their diversity pipelines.
“It’s amazing to me that we still have conversations in 2022 that go, ‘We can’t find ’em,'” said Greenwood Commercial Real Estate Group founder and principal Brian Edmonds. “As we grow our membership, we hope to be a clearinghouse for those in the city legitimately looking for African American professionals and talent, both from an employment perspective and a contracting perspective.”
AAREP Philly was co-founded by Edmonds, Benchmark Construction Group President Kenn Penn, Gilbane Building Co. Senior Business Development Manager Carol Horne Penn, EQT Exeter investment officer Tony Ewing and The Badger Group President Paul Badger, with Edmonds and Penn serving as inaugural co-presidents and Ewing as treasurer.
Though the impetus behind launching the Philly chapter came locally, representatives from other AAREP chapters enthusiastically pitched in to help bring its newest outpost into the fold once they were made aware of the founding group’s efforts, Edmonds and Penn told Bisnow in an interview.
Penn and Edmonds are on the boards of the local Building Industry Association and Society for Industrial and Office Realtors chapters, respectively, and expect the formation of AAREP to simply add to the community of professional organizations in the industry, like CREW does for women, Penn said.
Courtesy of Derrick Dean
The inaugural meeting of the Philadelphia chapter of African American Real Estate Professionals in May 2022.
Edmonds and others had been considering forming some sort of organization for years, but the ongoing effects of the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020 have added impetus and a sense of momentum to making practical progress, even as the two-year anniversary of the nationwide outcry in response to the murder of George Floyd approaches.
“I thought it was going to last for six months, and then everything would go back to normal in America,” Penn said. “But it hasn’t, and it’s actually even grown. The initiative [to address racial justice issues] is even greater than it was two years ago.”
While minority business participation initiatives in the public and private sectors often come with an implied context of addressing past harms, part of AAREP’s value will be in how much it behaves like just another trade organization rather than a pure social justice initiative.
“Our mission is simple: We want to get folks together, we want to network, we want to mentor younger folks in the business and we want to disseminate information,” Edmonds said. “Everyone is super busy, so you have to be intentional about getting together, networking and sharing information.”
In addition to the five founding members, the inaugural executive board of AAREP Philly is made up of the following experienced professionals from the brokerage, development, construction, architecture and engineering parts of the overall commercial real estate industry:
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Senior Vice President of Real Estate Donald Moore.
- Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health Senior Vice President, Real Estate and Facilities Clayton Mitchell.
- Tishman Speyer Managing Director of Business Development and Head of Diversity and Inclusion Joe Ritchie.
- Brandywine Realty Trust Vice President, Development Chris Franklin.
- CBRE associate Kieara Hill.
- Rittenhouse Appraisals principal Carlo Batts.
- Brianna Pinckney of Target Building Construction.
- Morgan Lewis & Bockius partner Rachel Lewis.
- Dilworth Paxson partner and Zoning & Land Use Chair Darwin Beauvais.
- AR Spruce founder and principal Maleda Berhane.