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Major real estate firms step up to save Black and Hispanic internships that coronavirus wiped out

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For the past few weeks, Cedric Bobo, a former investment executive at the Carlyle Group, has spent the better part of his days on video calls, welcoming mostly Black and Hispanic students to paid summer internship programs.

When he’s not welcoming them, he’s pitching the programs to real estate executives, hoping they’ll fund even more students.

Bobo is co-founder of Project Destined, a nonprofit real estate learning platform that he launched four years ago. It teaches minority kids in cities basic finance by working with them to understand how property investments in their own neighborhoods work. They learn about how to value buildings, how mortgages work and how investors decide if a property is worth buying. They then pitch deals to panels of experts. Project Destined then invests in the some of the properties and offers the students a chance to profit from the deals through scholarship funds if they stay engaged.

Bobo teaches finance, but he preaches community ownership. Project Destined runs these programs in several major cities across the country, including New York, Detroit and Atlanta.

When Covid-19 struck, he moved the entire program online. But when he heard that New York City had canceled 75,000 paid summer internships, he took the program one step further. He decided to use Project Destined’s learning platform as a gateway to replace at least some of those lost internships. 

“So many of our cities are challenged right now with budget issues. Seventy-five thousand students in New York alone lost their jobs for the summer, many of them Black and Brown youth. I talked to the [Real Estate Board of New York], and overnight we created 100 internships for students, and that was a real stimulus around the country,” said Bobo. “We went from there and began working with different corporates to begin to create more and more internships around the country.”

Bobo has recruited some of the biggest names in the real estate business: Brookfield Asset Management, Tishman Speyer, and Walker & Dunlop. The internships are five or six weeks and pay either $500 or $750, depending on the program. Students learn the basics from Project Destined’s courses and then connect directly with executives at the real estate firms sponsoring them. They will also hear live lectures from top executives at Brookfield, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, Amazon and former Yankee Alex Rodriguez, who runs his own real estate firm. 

“We went straight to the real estate folks, and we went straight to CEOs. That’s really important because if you want to have action, you’ve got to have the leaders create action and then measure it,” said Bobo. 

When the Black Lives Matter protests erupted, even more companies, large and small, began stepping up. He now hopes to fund more than 1,000 internships through the fall. 

“The protests are critical because they create awareness, and we need to sustain that awareness, but the next piece is how do you translate that into action. So what we’ve been doing is working with the corporates to create true training opportunities where they can hire those folks,” Bobo said.

Another sponsor in the program is Vincent Harris, co-founder of a small, Black-owned proptech firm called REIRail. It is a lead generation platform for smaller real estate investors to source property deals. Harris has been passionate about financial literacy since he was a child. His mother lost their home to foreclosure because she didn’t understand how to manage her finances.

“That was a really formative experience for me. I remember the trauma, frankly, of that, and vowed to never be in a position like that, to never have my children be in a position like that,” said Harris.

What drew him to the internship program, he said, was that it’s not just about education; it’s about putting those lessons into practice and getting both finances and invaluable professional connections into the hands of students.

“A lot of the lack of access, that you see people demanding in the streets right now, comes from the fact that folks who have power, the power to hire, etc., don’t interface with Black and Brown communities. They don’t have a means of entry and so Project Destined is really cementing a pipeline of talent into these organizations,” he said.

On a recent Zoom call, Bobo welcomed Samuel Obasi to his new internship. Obasi, a Black junior at Towson University in Baltimore, explained why he wanted to make real estate his future.

“Not only can you build wealth for yourself, but you can use that to build affordable housing for your own people in your own area, your own neighborhood,” said Obasi.

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