Before the Fair Housing Act of 1968, many Americans faced discrimination when seeking to buy a home. In Memphis, Tenn., not only were people of color denied the opportunity to live where they chose, but there was more segregation in real estate: Black real estate professionals could not belong to the REALTOR® organization.
By the time Glenn Moore, owner of Glenn Moore Realty outside of Memphis, became president of the Memphis Area Association of REALTORS® in 2010, the organization had been admitting black real estate professionals for decades. Yet he felt there was much more to be done.
"I think everyone was aware of past discrimination [in the REALTOR® association], but many felt that since outwardly discriminatory practices had ended a long time ago, everything was fine, says Moore. But I began to recognize a few customs that I suspected might be creating barriers preventing participation by the African-American community in our local REALTOR® association."
One of those barriers was the lack of recognition of the history of contributions made by black real estate professionals in the community—specifically, there was no black REALTOR® Emeritus at the association and no permanent tribute visible in the association office.
"When I was the association president in 2010, I asked our staff to research our admitting of African-Americans," says Moore. The year of first admittance was 1975, at that time six years short of qualifying for emeritus status. This set into motion exploring ideas on how we could rectify a custom that withheld an honor and inflicted a monetary penalty upon our African-- American membership."
Moore established a committee of staff and leadership to find a solution. This group became the foundation of the association's cultural diversity committee that is still active today.
"The essential elements of our plan included grandfathering for those who were licensed in Tennessee but were denied membership and a grace period to compensate for a period of trust-building past 1975 when the discrimination ended," says Moore.
This acknowledgment of past discrimination and the effect it has had on African-American real estate professionals enabled the Memphis Area Association of REALTORS® to forge a closer relationship with the local chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, established in 1947 by African-American real estate professionals as an alternative for those who were excluded from the National Association of REALTORS®.
"I had already been meeting with leadership of the Memphis chapter of NAREB, which had an understandably great mistrust for our REALTOR® organization due to past discrimination," says Moore. "Over time, we developed a good relationship and planned a historic joint meeting, which had never happened in our 100-year history."
The diversity groundwork laid in 2010 continues today with cultural diversity committees that are active and intentional about including and promoting professionals regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. "Locally, our association staff and leadership are very engaged in the diversity process and continue to work toward being a truly inclusive association," says Moore. "Our state association also continues to improve; just in the past few years we installed our first openly LGBTQ and African--American state presidents, and the state now has an active diversity committee."
These efforts have helped shift the culture of the Memphis association, says Glenn, who believes other organizations could learn from these efforts.
"To remain relevant, our associations must serve our full membership and have a leadership team and staff that looks like our membership," says Moore. "Although these steps have helped lead us to a more unified local association, continued assessment should be a part of maintaining a healthy organization for all of our associations."