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  • Writer's pictureMaj-Britt Johnson

More has been revealed

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

When I was a kid I got to march with my father on picket lines in NYC. This was back in the 60's. Dad was one of the founders of a Bronx NY civil rights group that primarily worked on issues of fair housing. Even before 60 Minutes thought to do it, this group (and many others like it) sent people into real estate offices to test the waters. First they'd send in a black man or woman to put in an application, equipped with papers showing they were financially qualified. If told the apartment they were inquiring about was already rented, a potential white tenant would go to the same office, same day, same qualifications and go through the same process. If the white person was shown the rental, they'd know they'd found a trouble spot. Then the group would approach the company with their evidence, and if the outcome was not satisfactory, we'd protest.

I remember two protests in particular. One was across the street from our own apartment building in a pretty much white, mostly Jewish and Irish middle class section of the Bronx. The super of that building, and his son, had physically threatened a member of the Civil Rights group who lived in their building, so my siblings and I weren't allowed to be a part of the demonstration. Our parents were worried the super or his wife (an angry, terribly thin woman whom we kids were terrified of, because she walked around the neighborhood muttering to herself, pulling at her thinning red hair and snarling about us "little brats") might hurt us if we became linked with him in their minds.

The day of the march I was relegated to the living room window, where I watched longingly (and no doubt resentfully) as a couple dozen people peacefully marched in a circle in front of the building across the street. We moved out of that building a few years later, and if memory serves, the super and his wife were still there, and the black family who wanted to move in, was not. A failure.

But, to borrow a phrase from KW culture (fail often, fail fast, fail forward), that civil rights group, when it failed, failed fast, failed often, and so, failed forward. There were successes. The second protest I remember best was one such, and it happened in Manhattan this time. That day I had permission from my principal to skip school. I made my own sign to carry, though I don't remember what it said. Probably,

"we shall overcome," same as the song I couldn't wait to start singing when we marched. This time Dad and the others had managed to gather a bigger group. We congregated in front of the offices of the Fisher Corporation, a big NYC real estate company, which had repeatedly discriminated against black and brown people in their rentals. It was energizing to be there, even as a small person in that big adult crowd. I think it gave my soul a sense of purpose and my sense of life's possibilities expanded as I joined this cause that was bigger and better than anything my own family could ever be, or that I could find through our church, or by staying in my own neighborhood.

My father and his friends had been trained by Dr. King when they'd joined him down south on one of his campaigns. You always approached the "enemy" first to see if they would work with you. So they sent word into that giant glass skyscraper. We were out there, we weren't going away, and we wanted to talk. In no time at all a corporate lawyer came dashing out of the building to talk to the leaders. Clearly anxious to avoid bad press and get us the heck out of there, he met with Dad and the others and they came to some kind of agreement.

I was gravely disappointed. I wanted to march! I wanted to sing! I think what I wanted was that feeling of togetherness and Big Purpose not to end. My father explained that we'd achieved a victory, but I'm pretty sure I pouted on the ride home.

I'm writing about these particular demonstrations because they concern real estate. I used to be a minister, and have spent much of my adult life as I did my childhood, in demonstrations. But now I am a realtor. Ironic. I'm a part of a business which still needs prodding and pushing and exposing when it comes to racial equity.

Thankfully that is happening. I am grateful to be part of a company, Keller Williams Realty International, that is pushing forward on the issue of equity. We now have a social equity taskforce in every "market center" across the country, and I believe there are nearly 1,000 of those.

So far we have identified six areas to address, and we are meeting on ZOOM, locally, regionally, and nationally to come up with a plan of action.

The six areas of action are:

Inclusive Marketing

Community give-back/external focus

Increase in black agent count at KW

Diversity training

Minorities in leadership positions in KW

Who knew the real estate profession would be a place where I could again find that sense of Big Community, taking me outside of myself and beyond my own personal ambitions.

Forward together, not alone, not apart!

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