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She Works to Make BHAM Real Estate Accessible to All – StyleBlueprint

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For Abra Barnes of Barnes & Associates, real estate isn’t simply about selling homes or brokering deals for commercial property. It’s a civil rights issue. That’s why she’s on a mission to help more Black people become homeowners and real estate agents. In addition to being a real estate broker, Abra owns a real estate school and has produced an award-winning documentary on fair housing.

Named for her maternal grandfather and local civil rights legend Rev. Abraham Woods, Jr., this dynamo is continuing her family legacy. “My granddaddy always told us to fight for our communities and people,” Abra tells us. “That was instilled in us, and it’s one of the reasons I think my business has been successful — because we’re all about the community and fighting for the people.”

She also has her finger on the pulse of Birmingham’s small business ecosystem and even helped Pinky Cole close the deal on the building for the Birmingham location of the wildly popular restaurant Slutty Vegan. Abra organized a block party and small business roundtable for the grand opening to celebrate and educate. We’re honored to introduce our newest FACE of Birmingham, Abra Barnes.

Abra Barnes of Barnes and Associates

Meet our newest FACE of Birmingham, Abra Barnes of Barnes & Associates. Image: Brian Pride

Your father started Barnes & Associates in 1989. What inspired you to get into the family business?

Honestly, I didn’t want to be in real estate. When I graduated from college, I was an assistant buyer at Neiman Marcus and a personal stylist. And I enjoyed that life. But my father got sick and told me he needed me to come to assist him. Even though I didn’t want to, I did because I feel like family is more important than anything. So, I did it out of obligation to my family and father. But once I came, I fell back in love with the city of Birmingham, and I fell in love with real estate.

Why do you consider real estate a civil rights issue?

Housing equity is the largest part of most people’s net worth, and for years, Black people were shut out of being able to be homeowners. The federal government even wrote laws to try to keep Black people from being able to be homeowners. Because of that, we have a late start on being able to build equity, which leads to having a higher net worth.

What do you feel sets your real estate school apart?

I vet the teachers myself, and I don’t get people who are just educators — all of my instructors are also licensed real estate agents with over 15 years of experience. They don’t just talk the talk. I say, “They walk the walk,” because they’re not just teaching it. They’re living the life of a real estate agent every day. Getting real-life experiences from your instructor is huge.

While you serve a diverse clientele, many of the students in your real estate school are African American. Why do you feel it’s important for more Black people to enter the real estate industry?

The homeownership rate for Black Americans last year was 46 percent. And homeownership rate for white Americans is 76 percent. That tells us that we are minorities when it comes to homeownership. With more African Americans in real estate, a consumer will see a face that tells them they can be a homeowner.

Also, real estate agents are self-employed, so you have your own small business. Being that you have a small business, you let people know there are options out there where you can be self-employed, make great money, and run your own business.

Abra Barnes posing inside her event venue, The Avondale Gallery & Loft.

Abra also owns The Avondale Gallery & Loft event venue. “I wanted to be able to have multiple streams of income within real estate,” she says, explaining why she decided to turn part of her company’s building into an event space. “Even if I don’t sell one house, I can make money off my real estate school. If I don’t have anybody in my real estate school, I can make money from my event center. I let my building go to work for me.” Image: D. Jerome Smedley

How did you come up with the idea to host a block party and small business roundtable to celebrate the grand opening of Pinky Cole’s Birmingham location of Slutty Vegan?

Pinky is such an inspiration, and the thing that I love about her [is that] she’s all about collaborating. I was the chair of Mayor Woodfin’s Small Business Council a while back, so I deal with a lot of small businesses. Also, being a commercial real estate broker, I help a lot of small businesses. And [many] small businesses have been inspired by Pinky and her Slutty Vegan story. I got tons of requests and questions about Pinky, so I asked her, “Can I set up a round table so you can meet the Birmingham small business community, and we can put all the questions on the table at one time?” Without hesitation, she said, “Yes, let’s do it.”

As far as the block party, she was working on the grand opening, and I thought, how great would it be if we incorporated other small businesses because we know that she’s going to have a huge turnout? [I knew it would] be a win for her and the whole small business community. Because this is a Black woman with a company worth over 100 million dollars, I felt she needed to be celebrated. So, I said, “This will be a block party that says, ‘Hey, Pinky, thank you for choosing Birmingham. Thank you for choosing Woodlawn.’”

In addition to your real estate school, what are some other things you’re doing to help close the homeownership gap?

Earlier this year, Mayor Woodfin appointed me as a commissioner at the housing authority. Through my position as a commissioner, I’m working my hardest to assist my low-income community and the people in public housing. In 10 years, public housing is not going to be what we see it as right now. People in public housing are being transitioned into subsidized housing, and we’re helping transition the people in subsidized housing into home ownership. So we have to prepare them as much as possible to be able to transition.

Also, I partnered with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute last year to produce a documentary on fair housing called Lenders, Landlords, and the Law. It premiered this past April at the Sidewalk Cinema. Because of the documentary I produced, we actually just won an international award for fair housing through ARELLO (the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials).

Abra posing outside the Barnes and Associates buidling.

For Abra Barnes, real estate is a civil rights issue. “Housing equity is the largest part of most people’s net worth, and for years, Black people were shut out of being able to be homeowners,” she says. Image: D. Jerome Smedley

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Play with my little nieces and nephews and travel. And in my mind, I’m a master carpenter. My dad was a master carpenter, and he loved building. I have taken on that hobby, and I build. So, you can find me all the time with my nail gun. Also, I love to sing. I walk into people’s houses with my microphone and sing.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

One thing that has taken me far is that my mom always told me, “You give the same respect to the garbage man that you give to the President of the United States.” I don’t care who you are or what walk of life [you’re from]; I’m going to show you the same respect. I think that has helped my business a lot.

Name three things you can’t live without.

My nail gun, my microphone, and all things chocolate.

Thank you, Abra!

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Meet more inspiring women from Birmingham and across the South by visiting our FACES archives.

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Javacia Harris Bowser
About the Author Javacia Harris Bowser

Javacia is a freelance writer based in Birmingham and the founder of <a href=”https://seejanewritebham.com/”>See Jane Write</a>, a website and community for women who write and blog. Three things she can’t live without are tacos, her Day Designer planner, and music by Beyonce.

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