By ‘Buying Back The Block,’ These Leaders Are Powering The Advancement Of Black Communities
A wave of investors are purchasing and restoring property in underserved neighborhoods, with the advancement and wellbeing of these community members remaining top of mind.
The past few years have seen a surge in conversations and action around boosting Black businesses and communities across the United States. Take Tulsa’s Greenwood District, for example, where ongoing work is being done to restore the community’s once budding Black business hub that was destroyed from the race riots that took place in 1919.
But even with steady enthusiasm for investing in Black neighborhoods, the equally important priority should be ensuring these efforts actually benefit members of these communities. Historically, this hasn’t been the case: wealthy investors who purchase property in Black and Brown communities will often drive the gentrification that pushes local residents out, only intensifying racial and socioeconomic inequity. Oftentimes, the wealth simply stays with those who already have it.
A wave of Black leaders and investors (among them are leading players Jay-Z, John Legend and Tyler Perry) are seeking to change this narrative. The ultimate goal: to create affordable housing options and get money directly in the hands of Black business owners. With more leaders hopping on board, “Buy back the block” has become a rallying cry to fuel this restoration. Here are a few others powering the movement:
Real Estate Developers Lead ‘Buy Back the Block’ Initiative in the South Side of Chicago
Although the West Woodlawn community of Chicago is predominately Black, less than 30% of its residents are homeowners. Five local, Black real estate entrepreneurs are in the process of changing that. In 2021, Derrick Walker, Keith Lindsey, Bonita Harrison, DaJuan Robinson and Sean Jones purchased land in West Woodlawn, where dozens of homes sit vacant and abandoned—the start of their redevelopment initiative called Buy Back the Block.
To date, the project, a collaboration with the Cook County Land Bank Authority, has overseen vacant lots within two blocks, and will turn this land into 11 three-flat buildings that equate to 33 modern, 3-bedroom/2-bath residences, which will be known as West Woodlawn Pointe. The project will be led by an all-Black team of architects, accountants, attorneys, carpenters, landscapers, HVAC professionals, plumbers, electricians and security staff, with the goal of putting more than 150 jobs back into the community.
Issa Rae Invests in South Los Angeles
Actress, producer and writer Issa Rae is known for spotlighting local Black businesses in her film projects—areas like Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills, and View Park are the focal point of her television shows like Insecure and Sweet Life: Los Angeles. Off screen, she’s also been about action: In 2019, she came aboard as co-owner and partner of Inglewood’s Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen with cofounders Ajay Relan and Yonnie Hagos. The coffee shop, which now has three locations (Slauson and Eagle Rock storefronts also entered the mix), was created as a direct response to the lack of locally owned dining and coffee options in the area. It was the first of its kind in the View Park-Windsor Hills area.
In the same year, Rae closed on a commercial property in Inglewood for the headquarters of Issa Rae Productions, which is now Hoorae Media. The mission of the production company is to celebrate and champion Black artists. More recently, in 2023, Hoorae partnered with Walmart’s “Black & Unlimited” Digital Development program, where Black creators receive resources to elevate their brands.
TikTok Influencer Buys Back His Childhood Block in Detroit
Rapper Tray Little released his first album in 2016, which tells the story of his childhood growing up in Detroit. His fame reached new heights when he took to TikTok during the pandemic and released a song called “Mask On” to educate kids on the importance of wearing a mask. He now has more than 1.5 followers on the social media platform, which he utilizes to raise awareness as he seeks to buy back his entire childhood block in Detroit. In conjunction with the Detroit Land Bank, Little has successfully purchased four lots, where he plans to build a community garden and rehab his childhood home.
Little, who is working alongside real estate broker and investor Brian Owen, is calling the initiative the “Buy the Block” campaign. In addition to his efforts to rehabilitate vacant and dilapidated neighborhoods in Detroit, Little also gives back to the community by working with a company called The Union to teach youth entrepreneurial and investment skills. He also speaks at juvenile halls for incarcerated youth.
Rich Banks Builds Black Power in Milwaukee
Rich Banks, the senior program manager of African American Affairs for the Milwaukee County Office of Equity, is a prominent leader in Milwaukee’s Black community. In 2019, alongside his business partner Paul Wellington, he cofounded MKE Black, a nonprofit that houses a Milwaukee-based, Black-owned business directory and promotes Black-led events, culture and advancement opportunities in the city. Since its inception, the directory has bolstered investments into the Black community from residents and tourists alike.
Most recently, Banks has his eyes set on influencing local government policies that have the potential to improve racial and economic equity in the city. This month, Banks and his team at the Office of Equity will be supporting Black Advocacy Day, a day for Black residents and business owners to voice their concerns to policymakers. The day will be hosted by the Wisconsin Legislative Black Caucus at the Capitol in Madison.
Mike Epps Launches HGTV Show ‘Buying Back the Block’ in Indianapolis
HGTV has greenlit a new interior design and home renovation TV show, but unlike its predecessors, this one is solely focused on building back the Black community. Actor and comedian Mike Epps will host the show alongside his wife, Kyra, as they build back his childhood Indianapolis neighborhood.
The show will premier in summer of this year and will highlight the couple’s years of experience with fixing up houses. So far, they’ve already flipped an abandoned firehouse into a family home and are in the process of rehabbing Epps’ grandmother’s home. Epps has taken to social media to stress the importance of Black people investing in their communities and pursuing ownership in the hopes of warding off gentrification.