February is Black History Month, and PAR is highlighting the ways real estate has shaped the lives of Black Realtors®. Two Realtors® who are also in leadership with the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, an association that aims to foster the expansion of intergenerational wealth creation by Black households, share their journeys in real estate.
Gloria J. Besley is a member of the Realtors® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh and has been a Realtor® for 51 years. She’s been a member of NAREB since 1977 and recently helped lead the resurrection of the Pittsburgh Realtist Professionals chapter, serving as the president.
“When I entered the real estate profession, only Realtors® could join the MLS. To be successful as a real estate salesperson, I needed access to all the tools of the trade,” Besley remembers. “Joining the Realtors® was a mandatory requirement to become successful in real estate.”
“We need more trained and experienced real estate professionals to serve the Black community. When you are knowledgeable and know the expectations, you can be prepared for success,” says Gloria J. Besley, president of the Pittsburgh Realtist Professionals.
“Real estate has evolved from a part-time career to a full-time profession,” she continues, reflecting on how the industry has changed in her lifetime. “Avenues for success exist in the many areas of services and products within the real estate industry. Real estate provides lucrative opportunities for a business and a career.”
For Besley, her favorite part of working with buyers is communicating with them and helping them achieve their dreams.
“Buyers all have a dream, and like dreams, some are realistic, and some have no basis,” she says. “As a knowledgeable real estate professional, I can make the dream a reality based on the affordability of purchasing cash or with financing. I never discuss affordability, instead, I talk about purchasing power. Once purchasing power is determined, the dream becomes a reality. For many buyers, this is the largest investment they will make in their lifetime.”
Besley believes representation is important and urges all Realtors®, especially those in the Black community, to pursue education and knowledge.
“Since entering the real estate profession, I have experienced denials, rejections and refusals without explanation,” she shares. “I pursued extensive education, licensing and credentials in the areas that presented obstacles to my success. We need more trained and experienced real estate professionals to serve the Black community. When you are knowledgeable and know the expectations, you can be prepared for success.”
Darlene Meekins, a member of Bucks County Association of Realtors®, has been a Realtor® for more than 11 years and currently serves as the Region III vice president of NAREB, as well as a PAR director.
“Driven by a natural curiosity and fueled by the support of my loved ones, I embarked on the exciting journey of becoming a Realtor®,” Meekins recalls. “It’s been a transformative experience, pushing me to constantly learn, grow and adapt. Every transaction is a new adventure, a chance to hone my skills and navigate the ever-evolving landscape of real estate. Seeing the joy on clients’ faces when they find their dream home is the ultimate reward, and it’s a testament to the incredible journey I’ve undertaken.”
One way real estate has changed Meekins’ life is through the impact she’s been able to make on her own community and her dedication to serving others.
“While volunteering for the Boys and Girls Club, Bristol Township Sr. Center and Habitat for Humanity ignited my desire to serve, real estate became the rocket fuel,” she shares. “It propelled my public speaking abilities, expanded my community connections and forged a powerful network that transcends traditional boundaries. This expanded reach allows me to sit on boards, engage with executive and legislative leaders and amplify my voice for positive change. Real estate isn’t just a career; it’s a platform to empower positive impact at a whole new level.”
“It’s deeply concerning to see projections suggesting a decline in Black homeownership. That’s why I’m passionate about advocating for equitable access to real estate, promoting financial literacy and fostering a collaborative environment where everyone has the opportunity to build a stake in our communities,” says Region III Vice President of NAREB Darlene Meekins.
For Meekins, the best part of working with buyers and sellers has been connecting with other people during the journey to homeownership. She most enjoys being able to help navigate the emotions that come with homebuying and being able to help guide buyers and sellers towards fulfilling their real estate goals.
“It’s like holding a tiny lantern in the dark, illuminating the path as they make one of life’s most significant decisions,” she says, painting a picture of her favorite part of the Realtor® job. “Sure, there are challenges and long hours, but witnessing the joy on their faces when they finally get the keys — that’s the reward that truly fuels my passion. It’s about being a part of something bigger than myself, changing lives one brick at a time.”
When it comes to any industry, it’s important to see diverse representation. Real estate is no exception, and Meekins believes that Black Realtor® representation is crucial.
“For many in the Black community, navigating the real estate landscape can feel like navigating unfamiliar territory,” she says. “Having role models who share our background and understand our unique needs can be transformative. Seeing successful Black professionals in the industry breaks down barriers and inspires a generation to believe in their own potential. It shows that expertise and success in real estate are not limited by race or background and that we can contribute meaningfully to shaping the future of our communities.”
“It’s deeply concerning to see projections suggesting a decline in Black homeownership,” Meekins continues. “That’s why I’m passionate about advocating for equitable access to real estate, promoting financial literacy and fostering a collaborative environment where everyone has the opportunity to build a stake in our communities.”
Meekins tells one sad but enlightening experience she had when working with a couple from Africa. The husband initially apprehensive after meeting her based on her race. “While this was disheartening, it also proved to be a powerful learning moment,” she said. “By showcasing my knowledge and exceeding expectations, I not only helped this African couple find their perfect home but also chipped away at a deeply ingrained bias. This experience compels me to ask: how can we, as real estate professionals, proactively build trust and inclusivity, ensuring every client feels confident and welcome regardless of their background?”
“My story in real estate is about more than just closing deals,” she adds. “It’s about contributing to a brighter future for all. I believe that by working together, we can ensure that everyone has the opportunity to own a piece of the American dream and build a legacy for generations to come.”