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Business leaders donate $500K to promote diversity in real estate

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Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business is working to foster greater diversity among Indiana’s real estate professionals, and a recent $500,000 gift from community leaders Lacy and Patty Johnson and Al and Shary Oak to the school’s Center for Real Estate Studies will help achieve that goal.

Al Oak and Lacy Johnson have been friends and colleagues going on 40 years. When Johnson, a partner at Ice Miller, began representing Oak’s architectural design firm Cripe, he realized there are not a lot of African-Americans involved in the commercial or investment side of real estate.

Johnson said most African-Americans involved in real estate work in the residential realm of the business, few are involved in the commercial side and even fewer have a hand in development.

The two men put their heads together; they knew they had to do something about the disparity.

“Al and I would talk about this over the years,” Johnson said. “This became a cause of Al’s and mine to make a change at IU Kelley’s Center for Real Estate.”

Oak co-founded the real estate center with Jeff Fisher, a professor, in 1985. Since then, it’s been his second job.

Johnson and Oak said the support of the Kelley School and knowing the administration is on board with their vision adds value to their donation. Based on statistics from the IUPUI diversity report, the Indianapolis campus has more students of color than the Bloomington campus, so the plan is to use the funds primarily at IUPUI.

“We really think we can grow this group. This is where the laboratory of business is. The profile of the students, there are a lot more minorities at IUPUI than the Bloomington campus,” said Oak.

Doug McCoy, director of the Center for Real Estate Studies at Indiana University, believes making students aware of the opportunity is the key to growth.

“We have to expose (students to the idea) and make them aware of the opportunity. That’s hard to do, but it’s such an important issue. We really think we can improve and make changes,” said McCoy.

James Wimbush, IU’s vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs, who has taught in the Kelley School of Business since 1991, said it will be important to make sure students of color are fully aware of everything the Center for Real Estate Studies offers.

“The misconception is that real estate is only selling houses,” Wimbush said. “We want to make sure minorities understand the full breadth of real estate and opportunities they can have. … We want to make sure students who aren’t aware of this understand they have a chance to be engaged with the center, to have first-hand exposure to people who have been successful in real estate. We see this as a great opportunity.”

Oak said providing financial support is one goal of the donation; the other aim is recruitment and retention of minority students.

“We have to reach them early before they select their major and reach out to them and tell them we’d love to have them in the program, and some will gravitate to that,” said Oak.

Through their gifts, the Oaks and the Johnsons also wish to honor three prominent Hoosiers:

• Joyce Rogers, former president and CEO of the Indiana Black Expo and now vice president for development and external relations in the IU Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs

• Sarah Evans Barker, senior U.S. district judge for the southern district of Indiana

• John Tinder, a retired circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

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