Why major commercial real estate firms are joining resources to recruit Black student-athletes

Real Estate

In this article

Cedric Bobo discusses a new program for Black student-athletes to transition into the commercial real estate market.
Diana Olick | CNBC

When Darius Livingston graduated from the University of California, Davis, two years ago, he knew his football career was over. Like most of his former teammates — and the majority of college athletes — he wasn’t going pro.

Instead, Livingston went into commercial real estate, thanks to lessons he learned from a paid internship program that teaches young students of color the fundamentals of finance, with a particular focus on real estate investing.

The program, Project Destined, is a nonprofit founded by former Carlyle Group principal Cedric Bobo.

Bobo made a name for himself in real estate investing and then decided to pay it forward. He launched the finance program in 2016 primarily for high school students. Then he broadened it to colleges, seeing the opportunity for both internships and jobs before and after graduation.

Eager to diversify their workforces, some of the largest real estate development, finance and management firms have signed on to fund the internships and mentor the students. That includes names like Boston Properties, Greystar, Brookfield, CBRE, Equity Residential, Fifth Wall, JLL, Skanska, Vornado and Walker & Dunlop.

The program has trained more than 5,000 participants from over 350 universities worldwide and has partnered with over 250 real estate firms.

And now, it’s gearing some of its efforts specifically toward Black student-athletes.

After doing a pilot program recently with student-athletes from UC Davis, Bobo has announced a partnership with the Black Student-Athlete Summit, a professional and academic support organization, to offer paid, virtual internships to 100 student-athletes from nine Division I schools. It includes 25 hours of training.

“Program participants will also join executives to evaluate real-time commercial real estate transactions in their community and compete in pitch competitions to senior industry leaders,” according to a release announcing the partnership. “The internship includes opportunities for scholarships and networking.”

Livingston went through the UC Davis pilot in his last semester of college, then got internships with Eastdil and Eden Housing. He is now an acquisitions and development associate at Catalyst Housing Group, a California-based real estate development firm and a financial backer of the new partnership.

“I think, for me, it was really a realization that I probably won’t be a first-round draft pick, and that’s OK,” explained Livingston. “It’s really being exposed to other opportunities. That’s why I’m so blessed to have Project Destined come along and expose me to the commercial real estate industry and the mindset that I deserve to be an owner in the communities that I live in.”

That right of ownership has long been Bobo’s mantra and was the crux of his pitch as he announced the new arm of his program to hundreds of students at the Black Student-Athletes Summit at USC. He wants them to understand that they can create change in their own neighborhoods by owning and managing real estate. More important, he wants them to know that ownership is possible.

“Our program is not just about how we see you all,” Bobo said of the real estate executives who were on hand for the announcement. “It’s how you see yourselves.”

While the graduation rate for Black student-athletes is improving slowly, a lot of students who were showered with resources in school find themselves struggling once they finish their athletic endeavors and get out in the workforce.

“A lot of these kids may think they’re a first-round draft pick, and that is a percent of a percent of a percent of a percent, so it’s really being real with yourself and knowing that you deserve much more than what you’re simply exposed to, and that’s just sports,” Livingston said.

Financial support for the program comes from real estate firms including BGO, Brookfield, Catalyst Housing Group, Dune Real Estate Partners, Jemcor Development Partners, Landspire Group, Marcus & Millichap, Virtu Investments and The Vistria Group, among others.

“The expansion of this platform is a natural evolution of this collective effort and will provide tangible pathways for thousands of Black student-athletes to pursue future careers in commercial real estate,” said Jordan Moss, who is also a former student-athlete at UC Davis and the founder and CEO of Catalyst.

Project Destined also has been working with the NBA and the WNBA to give professional athletes more options after they’re finished with their athletic careers.

Livingston said he thinks athletes make the best employees.

“We play to win,” he explained. “It’s the competitive nature. We want to outwork our opportunities.”

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