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Commercial Real Estate

How This Budding Organization is Making Waves in DFW’s Commercial Real Estate Scene

The DFW chapter of African American Real Estate Professionals is cultivating both a network and a cadre of programming that engages and informs.
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AAREP DFW hosted a March 2024 event focused on trailblazing women driving positive change in commercial real estate. Courtesy of AAREP DFW

On a summer evening in 2022, a group of professionals planted a seed in Dallas’ commercial real estate garden. Two years later, the flowers are beginning to bloom. 

In August 2022, the DFW chapter of the African American Real Estate Professionals organization celebrated its kickoff event at the home of Onyx Legacy Group. “At that first event, we had over 60 people of color,” said AAREP DFW Vice President Kameshia Freeman. “So it showed us that there was a desire and a need for this organization.” 

Since then, it’s been full steam ahead. The organization began taking in members in March of 2023, and membership has grown to about 70. The emerging nonprofit is establishing itself as a force for equity and inclusion in the local commercial real estate scene by cultivating both a network and a cadre of programming that engages and informs. Events include a panel discussion on the state of Dallas County’s southern sector, a book signing with T. Dallas Smith, and a collaborative networking event with The Real Estate Council.

AAREP DFW is also looking to be an arm for companies seeking to diversify their workforce by serving as a platform for job postings. 

The organization’s emergence comes amid industry-wide discussions focused on DEI efforts. In November, Bisnow reported that people of color make up just 12.8 percent of the C-suites at 89 of commercial real estate’s largest brokerages, developers, finance firms, and real estate investment trusts while the share of women in the C-suite in 2023 landed at 26.7 percent. 

AAREP is working to bridge that gap. The nonprofit was founded in 1995 in Washington D.C. and has since expanded to six chapters including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia and, most recently, DFW. “The reason I thought it was important for us to establish an AAREP chapter in DFW was simple,” noted AAREP President Brandon Bradley in a message on the organization’s website. “I wanted to provide an environment where African Americans in the local commercial real estate industry could collaborate and support one another as we continue to grow.”  

AAREP DFW’s programming  includes hosting informative panels like one that unfolded in March on the 48th floor of 1601 Elm St. The discussion featured Torrey Littlejohn of JLL, Karyn Martin of Interprise Design, and Freeman, also of JLL. The event, moderated by D CEO Editor Christine Perez, opened a window into industry insights and personal takeaways from each speaker’s career.

“Our clients want to see diversity,” said Freeman, who established a 15-year stint with the U.S. government’s General Services Administration prior to her post at JLL. “I was a client, and I wanted to see people that looked like me in the rooms to do business with me. And in this room, you have every aspect of commercial real estate represented. And so the benefit of an organization like AAREP is we represent the commercial real estate industry, and so companies are looking to hire, looking to network, (who say) ‘Well, I can’t find diverse people to hire?’ They’re right here.” 

Martin—whose 25-year career with Interprise Design has culminated in her appointment to the role of president and CEO—noted that perspective has been one of the biggest challenges in her career journey. “Because a lot of times when people see a woman of color, there is that inherent thought that they are not as good as, or they are not able to do as much,” Martin said.   

“One of the things that I have really liked about AAREP is the fact that it brings together a lot of subject-matter experts, people that are moving the needle, that are actually moving a lot of weight in the real estate industry. And being able to come together collectively and be able to showcase the work and projects that we do and the things that are actually flowing through the hands of African Americans helps change that narrative, and helps change that perspective, of whether we are capable to get the job done.”  

Littlejohn, who discussed the impact of being a Black woman in her career path, said she is aware of the shoulders she’s standing on and the doors she’s opening for those around her. “I’m very aware that even though my voice may not represent everybody that looks like me, that is sometimes an assumption,” Littlejohn said. “So I’m very aware of the things that I say, the things that I do.”  

“But also I think, at this point in my life and my career, I lean into it; it is who I am,” she continued. “It may be a benefit at times, also. I am not afraid to be who I am. I’m not afraid to bring that to the table. There are benefits to being a Black woman and the perspective that I bring to the table, as well.” 

As both AAREP DFW and DFW commercial real estate forge ahead, Martin, Freeman and Littlejohn shared what they’re most excited about for the future. 

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President and CEO, Interprise Design 

Martin is excited by the changes she’s seeing in commercial real estate. “I’ve been in the industry for a really long time, so as I see more diversity, and I see organizations like this and I see more women, women of color, and men of color in commercial real estate, that really makes me excited,” she says. “The rooms that have traditionally been where no one looks like us, even if there’s one or two there now, that’s growth. And so I’m really excited to see that, I’m excited to get to know other people in the industry that are making a difference, because that, to me, says the time is coming where no matter what you look like, it’s going to be what you produce.”  

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Senior Vice President, JLL; Vice President, AAREP DFW

“There’s a lot of talk about adaptive reuse and there’s also a lot of talk about affordable housing and the need,” she says. “So I’m excited to hear those conversations. We probably won’t go back to the office the way it was pre-pandemic. And I believe there will be a thriving downtown, but I think it’s going to come in the form of adaptive reuse, taking some of these vacant buildings and turning them into residential and hopefully some affordable housing.” 

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Senior Managing Director, JLL

“I’m excited about being in Dallas,” she says. “I think that we are just ripe for all the growth and the population explosion that we’re seeing and opportunities that are going to come with that, the companies that are going to relocate here, I think it will be a great place to do business. There will be opportunities and growth that come from that. And I’m just hoping that I’m putting myself in a position to take advantage of that for me, my family, my career, and my community.” 

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Audrey Henvey

Audrey Henvey

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