Hundreds Attend First DEI Summit Co-Sponsored by HGAR
MAHWAH, NJ—The sold-out inaugural Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Summit attracted hundreds of Realtors from across the New York metro region and provided valuable insight into the need for Realtor associations and their members to implement programs and policies that embrace DEI and promote Fair Housing.
The two-day DEI Summit was held at the Sheraton Mahwah on June 13 and 14 and was co-sponsored by the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors. Other co-sponsors included the National Association of Realtors, the New York State Association of Realtors, New Jersey Realtors, the Greater Bergen Association of Realtors, the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors and the North Central New Jersey Association of Realtors.
Freddimir Garcia, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Officer for HGAR, tells Real Estate In-Depth that approximately 80 Realtors attended the CE Course on June 13 on “Implicit Bias & Cultural Competence.” The four-hour session was presented by Garcia and Brennon Thompson, Community Engagement & Fair Housing Manager for the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors.
More than 200 Realtors attended the June 14th programming, which featured a host of informative presentations and roundtable discussions. 2022 NYSAR President Jennifer Vucetic and Robert White, 2022 President of New Jersey Realtors jointly issued the official welcome to the Summit, which was followed by a highly engaging discussion moderated by HGAR’s Garcia that featured Ryan Davis, Director of Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion for the National Association of Realtors and Alexia Smokler, Director of Policy & Programs for NAR.
The mid-morning breakout sessions featured “The Journey of a DEI Champion” by Matt Difanis, Broker/Owner of RE/MAX Realty Associates; “Building Community Through Affinity Groups—GRAR, Black, Latinx & LGBTQ+ Caucuses;” and a poignant and thought-provoking presentation entitled “My American Story Through Fair Housing & DEI,” by HGAR Immediate Past President Crystal Hawkins-Syska.
Hawkins-Syska shared her family roots from her ancestors who were enslaved at plantations in South Carolina to their migration to Chicago, Larchmont, and New York City and the systemic racism her family and she suffered throughout the years. She related that her grandfather, a World War II veteran was denied benefits under the GI Bill. She later shared how her family was not afforded opportunities due to the color of their skin despite gains in civil rights in the 1960s and beyond.
Her nearly hour-long presentation covered sometimes subtle and sometimes overt obstacles and Fair Housing hurdles she and her family faced living in New York City.
For example, she said that her family attempted to put roots down in Larchmont but were denied homeownership and eventually relocated to the New York City projects. Hawkins-Syska, now a successful Realtor, said that case of systemic racism radically altered her family’s financial future. She defined systemic racism as: “a pattern of policies and systems that are put into place by design, sometimes overtly or covertly, that impacts a group that reinforces their inferiority to the majority.”
The Summit also included a great discussion at the CEO & President’s Panel that featured panelists: HGAR CEO Richard Haggerty; 2022 HGAR President Anthony Domathoti; Crystal Berger, Chief Innovation Officer North Central Jersey Association of Realtors and 2022 NCJAR President Bill Flagg. The panel was moderated by Jessica Coates, CEO of the Howard County Association of Realtors.
HGAR’s Haggerty discussed the importance of incorporating DEI at the association level in real estate. “DEI is important for a full range of reasons, but I am going to focus on the importance of inclusiveness because we as Realtor associations have had an issue with really trying to create an inclusive environment where everybody feels welcome, where everybody feels they can participate in the conversation and have a seat at the table.”
He related that after the murder of George Floyd, HGAR began to have a series of difficult conversations that resulted in the realization that it had to put the concept of DEI at the forefront at HGAR.
Flagg related that as a Realtor for more than 40 years, he has experienced dozens of Fair Housing violations and cases of discrimination and racism.
“The reason that Diversity Equity and Inclusion is important is because we need to have more inclusion and more participation in making decisions,” he said.
HGAR’s Domathoti related that the association first established a Task Force and later a Committee, which he praised for the formulation of the current strategic plan.
“At the Board level it’s all about leadership, making sure that everybody is inclusive,” he said. “It’s not about tolerance, it’s about acceptance and that is something we are trying to bring to the forefront at every level.”
The afternoon session began with a keynote speech by best-selling author Eric M. Baily entitled “The Cure for Stupidity: Using Brain Science to Explain Irrational Behavior; followed by three breakout sessions—What LGBTQ + Allyship Looks Like in Real Estate presented by Dr. Marisa Moore, Director of Counseling Services, Marist College; an Inclusive Marketing Panel of Michelle Pfeffer, Director of Career Development, Howard Hanna | Rand Realty; Alexia Smokler, Director of Policy & Programs for NAR; Elena Rivera-Cheek, Founder & COO, Copy & Art; and JC Polonia, CEO Digitality.
The DEI Summit concluded with a presentation by Brennon Thompson, Community Engagement & Fair Housing, GRAR and the Closing Keynote address by Tanya Reu-Narvaez, Chief People Officer, Realogy Holdings Group.