Assuming the black sections of your childhood history books included more than a blurb about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Carter G. Woodson's connection to Black History Month, you may have already heard about Black Wall Street. Before the race riot in 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma was home for an elite group of African-American entrepreneurs, including multi-millionaire Jeremiah Hamilton.
It was also the inspiration for Tulsa Real Estate Fund, the "first African-American operated and managed crowdfunding platform." The goal of the organization is simple: Reduce gentrification, and help both accredited and non-accredited investors invest in urban neighborhoods. And while this post is not written with the goal of encouraging nor discouraging you to invest, I do intend to help those who may be interested in the crowdfunding platform learn a little bit more about what TREF is about through the eyes of its president, Johnetta G. Paye, Esq.*
Shamontiel L. Vaughn: What is it about TREF that will be different when it comes to gentrification? Ideally most companies and neighborhoods wouldn't be swallowed up if they had a choice.
Johnetta G. Paye: TREF provides residents in urban and underserved communities with the power to repair and improve their communities. Our company accomplishes this in two ways: We provide funding to urban developers who otherwise would not have access to capital through private loans and joint venture partnerships. We acquire and develop value-added real estate assets in urban communities.
In addition to that, many of the investors in TREF are from cities, neighborhoods and communities that are experiencing gentrification so they know firsthand what happens when they lose power in their own neighborhoods. Our investors also see that TREF's executive team is not just talking about change; we are out in the streets leading change. For example, Jay Morrison (TREF's founder and CEO) along with Ernestine Morrison (the CCO of TREF and Jay's wife) spearheaded a national boycott against Hillstone Group and Houston's restaurant for how it applied its seating guidelines and dress code in a discriminatory way. Other members of the TREF team participated in the boycott against Houston's restaurants.
SLV: Why do you believe TREF is a smart investment?
JGP: TREF offers the following benefits:
- It offers a low minimum to become an investor.
- The fund offers an 8 percent preferred return.
- The fund offers a 50 percent share of the profits.
TREF is not just one person. It is a collective of individuals, third-party vendors and consultants. TREF has engaged third-party vendors, and consultants that have earned their Series 7, MBAs and JDs. The vendors and consultants also have extensive professional experience in crowdfunding, underwriting, mortgages and real estate investing. However, as our team has mentioned countless times on Tulsa Talk Thursdays, any time you invest, there will be risks—whether you invest as little as the minimum $500 starting price or higher.
SLV: The first thing I did when I heard of this company was to read the frequently asked questions. Besides getting to know the basics of TREF, what is it that you think is most imperative for first-time investors to know before investing in the company?
JGP: I would encourage first-time investors to educate themselves about investing generally, crowdfunding, commercial real estate investing, and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Reliable financial books and magazines and workshops with credible experts are all highly encouraged. Just being able to educate yourself on how investments work can help you differentiate personal bias from facts, but that is true from a business perspective overall.
SLV: Is TREF your first time investing in property as opposed to being the legal liaison for those who are trying to own property?
JGP: Yes, TREF is my first time investing in property. As a member of the TREF executive team, I still see myself as a liaison for those who are trying to enter the real estate investing space or own property though.
SLV: You already have a track record in real estate law. What made you decide to take on a presidential role as opposed to the obvious choice of a legal role with TREF?
JGP: I did not start off as the president of Tulsa Real Estate Fund. I have had many roles within TREF as we built the company. That includes marketing, operations, acquisitions and the legal departments of the company. I believe that in order to be a strong leader, it is important that you understand every aspect of the business. Based on my hard work and ability to deliver results, Jay Morrison asked if I would be interested in being the president of TREF. And actually because I'm a critical thinker already, due to my legal training, I believe it's enabled me to make valuable daily operational decisions.
SLV: You immigrated to the United States when you were 3 years old after being born in the West African nation of Liberia. And although it can be a struggle in the United States to get and keep African-American businesses up and running, you have an interesting take on how our communities can unite when it comes to business owners. Please elaborate.
JGP: Although I was raised in the United States, my parents taught me African values. African culture is big on family and community. I grew up watching people help each other personally and professionally. This is the value system that I have taken with me into business, the importance of providing value to others. I consistently strive to be a resource to my professional network and clients. In 2016, I met Jay Morrison at a networking event in Chicago. I gave him my business card, and I asked him how I could be of value to his business. He told me about his vision for the Tulsa Real Estate Fund. For six months, I volunteered in my legal capacity and provided value to his business from a branding, copywriting and legal perspective. That lead him to ask me to move down to Atlanta to be more involved in helping to build Tulsa Real Estate Fund.
SLV: I'm glad you brought that up because that's a big move to make considering you already had your own law firm in Chicago, J. Paye & Associates. What made you want to become affiliated with the Tulsa Real Estate Fund and make that move to Atlanta?
JGP: J. Paye & Associates is still in tact; I can do quite a bit of my work remotely. In reference to TREF though, I wanted to help build a company that was dedicated to improving urban communities. Being a part of a company that has a social good component was very important to me. TREF is also a way to show that African-Americans can collectively pool their money and successfully do business together. The biggest example we have is Marcus Garvey and the Black Star Line. That business endeavor is historically looked at in a negative light. TREF is a way to show how the concept of group economics can successfully work within the African-American community. When TREF proves this concept, it will be a legacy that can be passed down for generations to come. On June 1, 2018, almost 12,000 predominately African-American investors came together and proved that collective economics can work in our community and bring about social good.
SLV: You have high hopes for the company. Let's hope it all works out for TREF and beyond. Thank you for your time.
* Full disclosure: I am an investor in TREF, and Paye was my real estate lawyer during this transaction. I was not offered nor would I have accepted payment by anyone on TREF's team to write this. This interview is solely written for editorial purposes.