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Justin and Kelly Saunders are founders of Urban Professionals Community, Inc., a nonprofit created to support young Black professionals to find friendships in the DMV and build wealth. The young married couple lives in Prince George’s County where they are homeowners and parents of a newborn baby girl.
“One of the biggest tickets to building wealth,” Justin advised, “is real estate,” which is why they juggled their Saturday babysitting schedule to attend OwnerCon, a wealth-building conference sponsored by Coalition Properties Group. The event was also presented by Ownership Matters and The Washington Informer. Sponsors included Caliber Home Loans, Smart Settlements, and Draper & Kramer.
The day-long event held Saturday, Sept. 17 in the offices of Keller Williams in Northwest, attracted nearly 80 mostly young, Black property owners seeking information, resources, and advice to expand their investments throughout the DMV. Most are homeowners, but nearly half raised their hands when asked if they owned two properties or more.
The conference was held to encourage each participant to think big and recognize “My ownership matters” and that “My ownership is power,” a chant repeated throughout the day.
Established in 2019, CPG founders Harrison Beacher, Ryan Butler and Keith James, young real estate professionals and investors, made connections through school, Greek life and cultural roots, according to their website. They joined forces with a “simple goal, to be the bridge to the community for all things real estate, lifestyle and wealth building.”
The day was filled with a legal discussion of the nuts and bolts of property ownership including estate planning, wills and trusts, as well as advice about the best tools and resources for renovations, hiring contractors and permits.
Heath Carelock, an accredited financial counselor and program director for the Financial Empowerment Center at Prince George’s Community College, delivered the keynote on the emotions of homebuying and the power of money. He introduced the concept of “financial therapy,” a new method of addressing care for people receiving financial services.
“Whether you are at the wealthy end of the totem pole or someone who is living paycheck to paycheck or someone with more money than money,” financial therapy is a new way to help an old problem of caring for people whose finances were impacted by the recession or pandemic. Carelock explained.
In the end, it was the story Omar Karim told that inspired the crowd. He shared his journey of becoming the owner of Banneker Ventures, a full-service real estate and construction firm started 17 years ago with millions of dollars worth of assets in the DMV. “Nowhere around the country is there leadership that believes in Black wealth creation, that will give you a chance, a poor kid like me from Memphis, as the leaders of D.C., particularly Adrian Fenty and Muriel Bowser,” Karim said.
A former wall street lawyer making six figures, he said the best decision he could have made was to take a $400 a week job with a local woman-owned developer in D.C. who allowed him to make deals on her behalf. He was bitten by the entrepreneur bug, he said, and started his own firm. As he ticked off hundreds of units currently under construction, he proudly announced his most recent acquisition, a 72-unit building on 16th Street, N.W. creating homeownership opportunities for a diverse group of renters upon the completion of the project.
“It’s going to be amazing,” he said.
He passionately advised the young audience, “You’ve got to be intentional [about real estate], and it’s hard; you’ve got to work really hard, but we’ve got to save our people. We’ve got to create affordable housing, and create communities for our people.”
“You can do it,” he closed followed by a standing ovation.