By MeiMei Fox
The Tulsa Real Estate Fund (TREF) was created to help individuals in low-income neighborhoods combat gentrification through making real estate investments at as low as $500. Ernestine Johnson and Johnetta G. Paye, Esq. both play an instrumental role at TREF, which is the first African American-owned real estate crowdfunding platform. Johnson is the co-founder and chief communications officer, and Paye acts as lead counsel and VP of business affairs.
“ The goal of the Tulsa Real Estate Fund, which I cofounded with my husband, is to spread a message of financial empowerment and financial literacy in underserved and working-class communities ,” says Johnson. In addition to working for TREF, she has been an actress since she was 10 years old and recently starred in 24 Legacy on FOX.
She initially became interested in real estate, Johnson explains, when she was studying for an audition one day and read that the median net worth for black women in her age range was $500. “This did not sit right with me. I was standing on $1000 shoes. I said to myself, ‘I have to use my art and my voice to financially empower low income, underserved, and urban communities.’”
And so, Johnson decided to learn about real estate. She realized that through gentrification, low-income families frequently are pushed out of their neighborhoods. Often, they are not equipped with the proper resources or education to buy properties in their communities. “Knowing this birthed an even deeper passion to help people buy real estate,” Johnson says.
To get her start in real estate, Johnson began by investing in dilapidated homes in Atlanta. One of the greatest challenges she faced early on was people telling her that she couldn’t do what she wanted to. However, she says, “I have learned to create my own doors and create doors for others. I find the gaps and find ways to fill them.”
Johnson feels blessed to have aligned her career with her life purpose. “Everything I do for a living is part of my life purpose. Serving, giving, speaking and empowering are all purposeful aspects of my life that also happen to earn me a great living. I’ve always defined success around not how much money you make, but how happy and fulfilled you are. If you can find a way to be happy and fulfilled while making money, that is the true definition of success to me.”
To other aspiring entrepreneurs and changemakers Johnson offers these words of advice:
As the VP of business affairs for TREF, Johnetta Paye assists in developing business strategies and goals for the fund, while also overseeing day-to-day operations, developing marketing campaigns, and managing the team. Additionally, she is an attorney who owns and operates J. Paye & Associates Attorneys at Law, a boutique law practice with offices in Chicago and Atlanta focused on business, entertainment and real estate law.
Paye says she became interested in real estate as a young girl, watching her parents work hard and take numerous overtime shifts in order to save enough money to move out of their low-income, high-rise housing complex and buy their own home. “My parents struggled and sacrificed to become homeowners. Now I see the pride they have in their home,” says Paye. “Also, as an attorney, I have facilitated numerous real estate transactions for first-time homebuyers. I have seen the power of real estate to transform people’s lives.”
Paye also feels grateful to have a career that enables her to live out her life’s purpose of helping others and being a leader. “One thing that has value and meaning to me is how I am able to inspire others,” she says. “Many of the low-income individuals I work with are surprised to see an African-American female lawyer. I take pride in being an example to young minorities and showing them that with hard work, it is possible for anyone to become a lawyer or business professional.”
Like Johnson, Paye also finds her greatest professional challenge to be overcoming rejection and naysayers. “When I first decided to attend college in Chicago, some members of my community did not think that I would make it. I was the first person in my family to graduate from a four-year college, and then I went on to become a lawyer. The journey wasn’t easy. I did not have anyone in my family to guide me. But I preserved.”
Being a member of the Tulsa Real Estate Fund executive team has proved to be an exercise in overcoming naysayers, as well. Paye says, “When we first explained our business model of offering shares to investors for $50 a unit, the collective consensus was that we would not be successful. However, TREF opened for investment on June 1, 2018 and raised over $10 million in one week! We proved the naysayers wrong .”
Paye offers these tips for overcoming obstacles and achieving success.
AUTHOR: MeiMei Fox is a New York Times bestselling author specializing in health, wellness and positive psychology. As a writer and life coach, she helps people align careers with their life purpose.