Tag: Abyssinian Development Corporation

Brian Benjamin: Building and Doing Business in Black Communities for the Benefit of Black People

Brian Benjamin- GenesisOne can help a community one is familiar with in order to make things beneficial for that community. The beauty of giving back is knowing who you are giving back to, the purpose you’re giving back and the satisfaction of realizing that the community grows based on the contribution you are making. Brian Benjamin knows this firsthand and it’s the crux of his real estate development firm, Genesis Companies.

BlackEnterprise.com was able to talk to Benjamin regarding the basis of the reason Genesis Companies has been in existence for over 10 years and growing stronger as more projects land on his plate.

BlackEnterprise:com: You are a partner in Genesis Companies could you explain to us what that is and your role in the company?

Brian Benjamin: Genesis Companies is a black-owned real estate development and construction company focused on enhancing urban communities through the development of high quality affordable and mixed-income residences in New York and New Jersey. My job is to find new development opportunities and help steer them through the predevelopment process.  I also work to ensure that we have community support for our projects and that they benefit communities and improve neighborhoods.

How did you get your start in your current business?

Karim Hutson founded the company in 2004, and he was actually the first person I met on a Harvard Business School recruitment weekend when we were prospective students. He became a very good friend and so I was around Genesis since inception until I joined officially in 2010.

What gets you up in the morning to run your business?

Knowing that I am playing a role in creating quality affordable housing for residents is a great feeling. In many urban centers, like my community of Harlem, there is a lack of low-income and middle-income living opportunities, so doing something about it is challenging and rewarding.

How important, if it is important, is it to have a Black company doing business in Black communities for the benefit of Black people?

It is quite important.  We primarily partner with nonprofits and churches, where trust is essential. They are giving us the power to build or renovate housing for their constituents so when they see us and communicate with us and understand that we are just like them, it puts them at ease.  Furthermore, having grown up in primarily African-American communities, we understand first-hand some of the issues that our communities face due to poor quality housing, such as asthma or lack of security, and so we are very focused creating healthy and safe living environments. We know the experience of our residents, and I believe that makes us better developers.

I know this is your 10-year anniversary of Genesis, what was/is the most important thing your company has done that you are most proud of or is a high point in your 10 years?

First and foremost is surviving for 10 years through difficult economic times. It is hard work starting and growing a business in the development space. As a result, we are able to employ people and feed families, which will only grow over time.  Additionally, we provided community space, at below-market rent, on the ground floor of one of our residential buildings in Harlem for a Dream Center to help underserved children and families.  I recently did a site visit of the center, which is operated by First Corinthian Baptist Church, to view its progress and I was blown away by what the church is doing with the space.  The amount of young people, who are impacted on a daily basis, as a result of the work we do is very gratifying. Continue reading “Brian Benjamin: Building and Doing Business in Black Communities for the Benefit of Black People”

Darren Walker to be Named President of the Ford Foundation

Darren Walker (pictured above)  was born in a charity hospital in Lafayette, La., and grew up in the 1960s in a single-parent household in rural Texas, where his mother worked as a nurse’s aide and he was enrolled in one of the first Head Start programs. He went on to the University of Texas at Austin with help from a Pell grant scholarship, awarded to low-income students based on financial need. He put in a few years at a prestigious Manhattan law firm and a Wall Street investment bank. Then he moved into the nonprofit world, first in Harlem, where, among other things, he worked on the project to build the first full-service supermarket there in a generation.

On Thursday, Mr. Walker, 53, will take the next step in a career that has taken him from Harlem to world-famous foundations five and a half miles away in Midtown Manhattan. He is to be named president of the Ford Foundation, the nation’s second-largest philanthropic organization. He will succeed Luis Ubiñas, who announced in March that he would step down. For Mr. Walker, the new job is a promotion. He has been a vice president at Ford since 2010, when Mr. Ubiñas hired him away from the Rockefeller Foundation, where Mr. Walker had worked for several years, also as a vice president.

Continue reading “Darren Walker to be Named President of the Ford Foundation”

Twenty-One Communities to Plan ‘Promise Neighborhoods’!


Organizers in distressed communities from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., will soon begin plans to create what the Department of Education envisions as “Promise Neighborhoods,” where children and families receive support services that boost a student’s chance of being successful in school.  Twenty-one applicants for the program to transform communities and student outcomes were named on Tuesday. They will receive planning grants of up to $500,000.  “Communities across the country recognize that education is the one true path out of poverty,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. “These Promise Neighborhoods applicants are committed to putting schools at the center of their work to provide comprehensive services for young children and students.”

The program is modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provides comprehensive support for families from pregnancy through birth, education through college and career. Children in the program’s charter schools have made impressive gains on standardized tests and in closing the achievement gap.

More than 300 communities applied to become Promise Neighborhoods.  Applicants hope they can reproduce the results of the Harlem Children’s Zone, even if they can’t create charter schools and will have a fraction of the organization’s $84 million budget.  “If we want to address the challenges of student achievement and success, you have to work in the traditional public school system,” said Sheena Wright, president and CEO of the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem, one of the organizations that was awarded a Promise Neighborhoods grant.  The local public high school Wright’s group works with has attained strong results, including a graduation rate of more than 90 percent for African American men, she said.

Dreama Gentry, director for external affairs at Berea College, which will work with three communities in rural Kentucky, said a smaller budget wasn’t a barrier to improving student outcomes. The key will be engaging the community, particularly those who have lost faith in the value of education, she said.  “That’s what it takes to create the change, not necessarily the big budget,” Gentry said.  The Promise Neighborhoods were part of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign platform, and he has requested $210 million in the 2011 budget to implement the program and plan for more Promise Neighborhoods. Duncan said Tuesday that if less is granted, “a lot of children will lose out.”  The idea is this: Students don’t learn in isolation, and if they come to school with an empty stomach, or don’t feel safe at home, they’ll have a harder time learning in the classroom.

“We’re hoping we can bring families back together,” said Geri Small, chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, one of the organizations that won the grant.  Duncan visited the Montana reservation last year, which has been plagued by high dropout rates and unemployment. The community has been challenged by drug and alcohol abuse, and the breakdown of the family structure, with many children in single family households, or with a parent in jail, Small said.  “The whole community, all the different organizations came together,” she said.

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